The date was March 26, 2013, and the weather in Miami had started to warm up. Children played on the boardwalk and the piragua line snaked around the corner.
I had lived in Miami for eight months. I had lost two jobs. In my desperation for a career path, I had interviewed at a half-dozen sketchy companies with sketchy motives. My car had been broken into on nine separate occasions. Some crook had stolen my bike seat. I had gained twenty-five pounds, mostly in chai lattes and cheesecake brownies from Sean at the local Starbucks. I bartended at a beachside club in sky-high heels. I would have my car broken into two more times before I would get the hell out.
But on this specific day, the warm breeze felt good on my bare arms, and I needed to enjoy little things like that. So I put on my sassiest lace-up red wedges and took myself out to dinner near the pier.
The hostess at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. took one look at me, grabbed two menus, and sat me at a table for two. The woman cuh-learly assumed I was on a date, and I wasn’t feeling good enough to explain to a complete stranger what I was doing alone.
So when the waiter asked about the second menu, I responded “they’re on their way.”
Somehow, it didn’t occur to me that my lie wasn’t going to get me very far. As the waiter got antsier and antsier and my non-existent date continued to…not exist, I played it off like it wasn’t a big deal and asked the waiter to take my order anyway.
I got an appetizer. Then I got shrimp. And of course I got dessert because my life was hard, dammit.
The waiter asked one more time as I was ordering dessert: “so where’s your date?”
And now I was tired. I had been tired. I came to this restaurant, alone, because I was tired. I was tired of trying to figure out my life, and I was tired of berating myself, and I was tired of hating everything. And now I had been implicitly asked, on four separate occasions in the past hour, to explain my presence here, now, by myself, so I was tired of that. And I was tired of making shit up.
But more than anything at that exact moment, I was tired of talking to this waiter. And so I didn’t say a damn thing. I just looked at him and shrugged.
The waiter did not ask me again: not when he brought dessert, not when he brought the check. But he did do something that I’ll never forget. On top of the check, he placed a giant bar of dark chocolate from the Bubba Gump gift shop.
This guy had taken a minute to pay an exorbitant price for a chocolate bar, then given it to a girl he didn’t know but who, he assumed, must be having a terrible time.
While I lived in Miami, most people I knew wanted something from me as opposed to something for me. Miamians take a semi-facetious, sick pride in the materialism and selfishness of the culture.
So although the waiter at Bubba Gump completely misunderstood the reason that I was having a terrible time, his chocolate bar made me feel better. It made me realize that I don’t have to know why someone is hurting in order to help. It’s not even about chocolate. I could hate the taste of chocolate, and the gift would still have meant the same thing: I noticed. I hope this helps.
I thought about that the other day as I was walking through the Merchandise Mart and I noticed a woman leaning against the wall, crying. It wasn’t loud or anything, but you didn’t have to look hard to tell that she was crying. But mostly, people were just walking by. I almost walked by, too. In fact, I did walk by.
I didn’t want to stop and ask her what was wrong: it was none of my damn business, after all. That would be intrusive, and it might make things worse. So, having successfully rationalized my refusal to react, I kept walking.
But then I thought about the waiter at Bubba Gump. So I turned around, swung through the Starbucks, bought a package of chocolate covered graham crackers, and walked back through the mart to pay it forward.
When I returned to the spot where I had seen the woman, she wasn’t there anymore.
I wonder how often I miss opportunities to be kind because I am unprepared. I don’t physically have the stuff on me to be kind, or I don’t know what would be an appropriate way to be kind, or I’m not wired to think of something I can do and so, on the spot, I get stuck.
They’re small moments, and it’s easy to forget about the times they didn’t happen. But it occurs to me that I remember many of the times in my past when they did. Most notably, many of them did not involve any kind of drawn-out conversation. I definitely have occasions where I don’t have the time or energy to talk to people — especially distraught strangers — and I don’t think I’d be much help as a conversation partner, anyway.
But the chocolate method of kindness is convenient precisely because of its drive-by nature: I can show up, hand someone the candy, and walk away without saying a word. It satisfies my inner hermit and my desire to do something, even if it’s not all that helpful.
I still have that package of chocolate covered graham crackers in my backpack. Next time, I’ll have it on hand.