“Do you folks have a reservation?” The haughty young man looked suspiciously at us, quite obviously assured of the reply he would get. We didn’t make him wait. “No. We heard that you had great food. Will it be a problem to get a table?” We glanced around. There was not another customer in the Italian restaurant at this early hour, but he dutifully checked his chart before replying. “No, I think we can get you in. I just need to see which table would be best.” In a moment, we were shepherded to a table in the back corner, clumsily situated in front of an alcove which held a shelf full of folded cloth napkins. There was also an electronic keyboard shoved willy-nilly back in the little cubbyhole.
The sign at the entrance had stated clearly, “Appropriate dress is required.” We, assuming that this was akin to the more common “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs we were accustomed to, had walked right in–she in her blue jeans and I in my khakis, and both wearing reasonably clean shirts with no holes in them. We’re still not sure, but perhaps this wasn’t what was intended by “appropriate dress”. It could be that the corner was their way of shunning us, as well as hiding us from the other, non-existent customers. At any rate, it was so dark that one needed to use the ambient glow of the cell-phone’s screen to read the menu (prices all in a simple numeral, with no dollar signs). No one would notice us here, so we settled in to enjoy our meal.
Apart from an “excuse me” or two offered by wait-staff needing napkins from the shelf, we were largely undisturbed, except at proper intervals by our waiter. She, while not hopeful of much from us, was attentive. When we left, it seemed that her thanks indicated that we might have surpassed her meager expectation. I’ve always prided myself in the practice of under-promising and over-delivering in the business arena, but that hadn’t been my intention tonight. Alas, some things are simply out of our control.
I’m not going to give you a review of the food or the service at the restaurant; not going to suggest that you avoid going there if you are just plain folks like us. I only mention the occasion to spend a few moments speaking of uncomfortable circumstances. You see, I find myself more at ease in dining establishments where the waitresses call me “sweetie” and keep pouring coffee interminably into my empty cup with a “there you go, hon” and bringing the plastic pitcher to tip sidewise over the Lovely Lady’s tea glass, as they murmur a “happy to help, dear” to her. The light floods the tables and there are no dim corners or shadowy niches in which to hide unsavory characters. On this night, I am as uncomfortable in this restaurant as the staff seems to be to have me here.
The Lovely Lady and I have taken a weekend to go to the city and “relax”. I’d rather close the store and sleep late at home, but she knows that sooner or later I’d be back in the store working, so we go away. It is the first of several uncomfortable things we’ll endure. The meal in the dark corner is the last straw. I’m ready to go home and the gloomy thoughts begin to buzz around in my head. Then, I see him. The piano player. His name is Frank. Frank gets to sit in the corner, too. The odd fellow, about my age, slinks into the cubbyhole and begins shifting things around, after a few moments glancing apologetically at the back of the Lovely Lady’s head and then, looking at me, assures me that the speaker will be out in the hall, so it won’t be too loud for us. I smile and tell him that it will be fine either way. We like music. The momentary smile on his face is gone as quickly as it comes. He is uncomfortable here, too.
As Frank finally gets things situated and begins to play, his discomfort is made even more clear. He sets his glasses on his nose, with lenses as thick as the bottoms of old-fashioned coke bottles. Since it is an Italian restaurant, he seems to think that he should begin with a song from that country. As he commences, his music blows in the cold breeze which pushes through the corner every time the door on the other side of the partition is opened, the lamp he has situated beside the piano illuminates the pages almost not at all, and he squints through his coke-bottle glasses to see the unfamiliar music. After he struggles through the song, not skillfully, he almost angrily tosses the pages to the floor and then begins another tune, this time ignoring the necessity to stay within the geographical region of the world. Ah! Now the music flows from his fingertips, as he reminisces musically about his “huckleberry friend” and sails up “Moon River”. And so it goes for the whole time we are seated there. The obligatory Italian pieces are stilted and halting, pages of printed music blowing and slapped into place again throughout, and the music he knows and loves flows from his heart with no need of printed music, played smoothly and skillfully, as his fingers find their way unerringly to the right keys for the melodies and chords which make up the beautiful harmonies in the songs.
We walk out of the restaurant…I, amazed that I have avoided any obvious faux pas in the use of my silverware or napkin…the Lovely Lady probably happy about my avoidance of the same, and the music follows us out into the night. Frank has reminded me that we all, every one of us, have things which must be done even though they are out of our comfort zone. He had to play the unfamiliar and difficult tunes when he preferred the comfortable, old songs which he knew and loved. It wasn’t easy. He did it anyway.
Like our time away from our business and our visit to the posh restaurant, life is not always smooth sailing down familiar streams and river branches. At times, we make our way, cautiously (and not a little frightened) onto the wide ocean to venture, not where we will, but where we must.
I have no great spiritual gems to share tonight. Sometimes, all we have are the simple truths which have guided men for all of history. Stagnant waters are that way because they never go anywhere. Growth and progress occur as we move out of our accustomed paths, applying what we have learned and absorbing new lessons, to take on bigger and unfamiliar tasks. The Teacher made it plain as He told His followers the story of servants who were faithful in small things. Their reward was always to be given bigger and more difficult tasks, never to remain doing the small things again and again.
I’m not sure I like that a lot. I’m working at applying it in my life anyway.
Push out away from the shore! It’s what the Builder designed your vessel to do. You’ll never realize your potential until you move out of the place of comfort and into the place of opportunity.
Oh. You might want to keep your coat and tie or formal frock handy to be able to get into the places you’ll need to go, too. Sometimes, appropriate dress is required.
“The person who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”
(Dale Carnegie~American lecturer~1888-1955)
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!'”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.