“Yesterday I went to Olive Garden restaurant to have dinner with nice families. We were a group of 7 adults and 5 children. Everyone in the restaurant was knowing that we were Arabs Muslims on the table because of the language and the ladies were having scarves over their head (Hijab). After finishing we asked for the receipts and the waitress came to us with that receipt (in the picture). Yes, someone paid for us and wrote those wonderful words on the receipt. I can’t express how this act touched our hearts. There is still light in the dark, there is still hope within the frustration. All I can say to who did that, Merry Christmas to you too and God bless such a beautiful heart you have.” (“Love is What Really Matters” on Facebook)
When I read the paragraph above, my heart swelled with pride and joy. Whoever paid the food bill for this Middle Eastern group, and wrote those beautiful words on the “Paid in Full” receipt exhibited the very best attributes of every person in The United States of America today!
But why did they do it? Money is tight for almost everyone around the holidays. They must have hesitated for a moment to wonder if the Arab families might take offense to this anonymous act of generosity (Middle Eastern men are all about “saving face” (pride) when approached with what could have been misunderstood as “charity”)? Did you catch the part about the patrons writing “Merry Christmas” on the receipt? How about the Arab gentleman responding in kind, and then adding “God Bless”? What’s up with that? Didn’t he say he was Muslim?
It is an irrefutable fact that this world is chock-a-block full of wonderful, compassionate courageous individuals (of many skin colors) over-flowing with righteous character and integrity. Praise God!
We are (and hopefully will always remain) a country of immigrants. Immigrants were crucial to building the initial infrastructure of our beloved country with their talents, skills and innovations brought from the home country of their birth. In exchange, America was to them a golden land of opportunity to live in freedom and prosper without limitations or fear. We need the energy of others to (legally) enter the United States and assimilate their ideas and experiences into our societies. This is as truthful today as it was when The Statue of Liberty welcomed the first wide-eyed hopefuls with the promise of “Bring me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” (American poet, Emma Lazarus)
I highlighted the incident at Olive Garden— which didn’t make the national news— because it saddens me to think that somewhere along the line “privileged men and women” of all colors, race, creeds and religions have lost their generous spirit. We’ve become afraid of the differences in others and suspect of the unfamiliar outside of our neighborhoods. We stopped giving the benefit of the doubt, callously insisting there is “no room for error” when it comes to the safety of our own. Worst of all, we forgot that we are all equal in the eyes of God, innocent until proven guilty, worthy of respect and kindness until proven otherwise.
As a result, we’ve become a fearful, angry and narcissistic people living in the present while apologizing for the past. We’ve rewritten history to cloud the current issues and undermine the hard lessons we learned from our mistakes. An entire generation of people will never know what it is like to form an opinion on their own from experience rather than hearsay.
Forget political correctness, racial epithets and cultural “over-sensitivities”. Throw out the vulgar name calling, ridiculous labeling and “painting a broad stripe” that attempts to lay blame on the “whole” rather than offending the “few”. We don’t need to change others to fit into the way we speak, eat, dress, or worship— we need to challenge ourselves to be non-judgmental, be more inclusive and less suspect of the differences of others. Loving our neighbors means more than “not hating” or “not trusting” them. For a solution to occur, we must be more empathetic toward marginalized individuals and groups, grasping the opportunity to condemn racism, bigotry and ethnocentricity whenever and wherever it presents.
One of my all-time favorite public speakers on various Christian topics is Justin Lee, the founder of the Gay Christian Network. His recent seminar at the GNC 2016 Conference entitled “Two Dirty Words” is about marginalized human beings (we all are members of a minority in one way or another). He clearly explains liberal theology is focusing primarily on “social justice” and perhaps is doing more harm than good to bring about a real “reparation of the heart”. Justin’s words had a profound impact on how I will listen and respond to everyone of a different color or culture or belief system in the future. I implore you to really open your heart to what he is saying (the talk is an hour in length (YouTube), but worth every second, I promise.)
“(Newser) – In April, James Brady was taking his daily walk when he found $850 in cash in a bank envelope on the sidewalk. The New Jersey man, then homeless, turned the money in to police. No one claimed it, and last month police returned it to him … and as a result, Brady was denied General Assistance and Medicaid benefits from Oct. 18 through the end of the year, the Record reports. The director of the Hackensack Human Services Department says she had no choice, because Brady didn’t report the added income.”
What part of “homeless” did HSD (choose to) not understand? Was John Brady homeless because he was suffering from a mental illness or just temporarily down on his luck? I imagine very few individuals would even think to report the monies as a windfall to HSD or the IRS, a paltry sum to many, but certainly a king’s ransom to others who have nothing. Instead of appreciating the honesty shown by Mr. Brady by turning the envelope over to the police (money that perhaps might have fed him for weeks, even put a roof over his head and fresh clothing on his back had he kept the money), he was “punished” by the system for doing the right thing.
What exactly is the “right thing”? Laws are laws, created for the greater good of the masses, but we all know individuals that use laws to their own advantage. Some cynical folk might ask, “Did Mr. Brady turn in the monies because he was a “good guy”, or was he a guy bilking the system, seeking a reward and attention (doing something to get something in return) and got punked instead?” In the absence of a religious-based mandate to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, where do we go to learn how to be honest and trustworthy? How do we become educated to understand and consider the needs of others, putting their needs before our own?
I had the honor of meeting Mother Teresa twice in my lifetime, once at an orphanage that I volunteered in New Delhi in the mid 1970’s and again in Australia when she came to visit our children’s school in Alice Springs. A diminutive (in size only) woman of ordinary expression, she was truly one of the most influential people in my life. Her voice never minced inspirational words when it came to sacrifice and showing equal humanity to all of God’s creatures:
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them. Not all of us can do great things, but we all can do small things well. Smile five times a day at someone you don’t really want to smile at; do it for peace.” Blessed Mother Teresa
If our parents do not teach us to be respectful, compassionate and responsible human beings when we are young, and our teachers are not permitted to reinforce such common sense life lessons in the classrooms, if there is no spiritual guidance and influence in the home or fair “accountability” in our society, how will we ever transcend the inconsistencies and chaos we are faced with each and every day? I admit there are times I worry that as a nation we are headed in the wrong direction that our priorities are all screwed up and everyone is only out for themselves.
But then I read such wonderful accounts of every day individuals that over-came their fears and prejudices to reach out to others with understanding and compassion to do the right thing. Like the teenage mother that couldn’t afford to buy diapers for her baby until the customer behind her added the diapers to his bill, or the little girl with Down Syndrome that sent over 100 Christmas cards to soldiers unable to come home for the holidays, or the policemen who returned to the house of the man who died shoveling snow just to finish the job for his widow, etc…the list goes on and on. It is there that I find hope for mankind and remember that the earth is not our Kingdom. The Almighty is in his Heaven and all is (or will be) right with the world.
Something struck an immediate cord with me when I reread the Arab gentleman’s response to his patron’s generosity: “There is still light in the dark, there is still hope within the frustration”. Mother Teresa also said, “Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people”.
Don’t let fear stand in the way of your humanity today or any day.