Jan 15, 2009
it's better to give
On a drive through downtown Rochester, you may very likely see dozens of nurses dressed in their scrubs waiting for the bus. You may see Arabian men with traditional black and white checked head dressings or Somali women with their heads covered crossing the street. You'll probably also see a husband pushing his wife in a wheelchair, a patient in a light blue hospital gown pushing his IV drip enjoying the fresh air, or a little girl with stitches across her shaved head. You will definitely see cars with licence plates from any state in the country parked in front of hotels with welcome signs in ten languages. Each year over 2.5 million visitors come through Rochester. The hospitality and tourist industry in Rochester is important to the city's economy, driven by the health care industry. If you ever visit Rochester, you cannot go far without noticing the influence of the Mayo Clinic. I wonder if the people who live in Rochester ever get used to seeing the human drama that is in the heart of their town every day. I wonder if they become too accustomed to it. I wonder if I will. When we were first in Rochester, JD and I had a rare night out. We'd found a babysitter, a high school girl with a crest white strips smile and size 2 jeans. Because we were celebrating our anniversary we wanted to go someplace nice, but we weren't familiar with the town's nicer eating establishments. In a desperate move, we asked the babysitter if she knew of some place nice that we could celebrate our anniversary. She shrugged and said, "Well, my parent's like Victoria's. It's nice. It's Italian." So we went to Victoria's in downtown Rochester. Victoria's is the sort of place that has an old establishment atmosphere. The lights are low with candle's flickering on the dark wood and intricately detailed fresco paintings. After a long wait, we were seated at a table for two with a white linen table cloth. As we were getting settled, I couldn't help but notice the family at the table next to ours, seated behind JD. They were a family of three: mom, dad and young girl. They looked a little out of place in this fine establishment in their t-shirts and jeans. I was facing the dad, whose bed head hair and glasses betrayed his tiredness. It wasn't too hard to figure out that their daughter was a patient at the Mayo Clinic, with her head wrapped in white bandages. She looked to be my son's age. I tried to imagine what it might be like to see John's head wrapped in bandages like a mummy. "JD!" I said, "You wanna do something crazy?" He looked at me like I might in fact be crazy. "Let's pay for their meal," I said nodding to the family behind him. This was a crazy suggestion indeed. We were splurging for our own meal, and as of yet, had no idea what this family had ordered to eat. He couldn't see them, and felt awkward turning around to investigate them, so I suggested he take a trip to the restroom and on the way check this family out. He did and when he came back he was all smiles. "Let's do it!" he said. The next time the waiter came to our table, we told him that we wanted to pay for their check anonymously. He smiled in a conspiratory way and told us it would be no problem. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch when the waiter approached their table and told them that they didn't have to pay for their meal. The dad's smile was like a weight had momentarily been lifted. I caught the mom's profile as she looked at her head wrapped daughter, and her eyes were wide and her smile was huge as she gave her daughter a hug. And the little girl, she looked dazed. All three of them looked around the restaurant. I was suddenly very engrossed in my tortellini, not wanting to meet their eyes and give our secret away. The rest of the night, as JD and I walked through the streets of Rochester, we felt like we were walking on air. We were so giddy with the joy of having blessed this little family at a difficult time in their lives. We giggled at the craziness of what we'd done. We're living on faith that God will supply our own needs, what's another family's meal to God? Surely He'd understand. It was fun to meet other people's needs when they least expected it. Our little act of giving wasn't much in comparison to the needs that this family surely must have while they were dealing with whatever had brought them to Rochester and the Mayo Clinic. But it was something. And we were so happy to have been a part of it. And to have seen their smiles! Truly, it's better to give than to receive.