Easter Sunday fell on April fourth in 2021. We were entering the fourteenth month of the Covid pandemic; lockdowns and restrictions had begun in early March 2020. It seemed that each and every time a glimmer of hope about the end of the pandemic appeared, it was extinguished by another surge in cases.
Zach’s school had remained closed since the first Friday in March of ’20, and he was on month 14 of no formal academic program. He was missing out on key services such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. Most difficult for him, I believe, was being away from his teacher. This would be the second time in a short span where he experienced the trauma of sudden, prolonged separation from a beloved teacher. At least we knew he’d see this teacher again; we just didn’t know when. My heart broke for him.
It wasn’t like we were cooped up in the house for over a year with nothing going on. We made the best of the circumstances, just like everyone else. And when it felt too isolated, and rates diminished, we took ourselves to VRBOs near the coast where we could enjoy ocean breezes and sand between our toes for a few days. The grueling part of all this Covid madness was not seeing beloved family and friends who lived plane-ride distances away.
Wanting to have some sort of Easter celebration, we booked a patio table at a nice restaurant. Let me just say…wearing flowy pants, a dressy top, and strappy sandals felt wonderfully foreign, as did the make-up on my face. My boys were dressed in nice shirts and slacks, and Zach seemed thrilled to arrive at one of his favorite places. He was all smiles and giggles. I knew the foodie in him would not be disappointed.
It was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining warmly on the metal table top. Our waiter was a friendly fellow who seemed to be on his second, maybe third, day of work. With some appetizers ordered, we settled in to the comfort of the surroundings. Just seeing other human beings on the sidewalk, at their tables, or milling about the open bar proved food for the soul. Gentle music played in the background. We sipped Chardonnay.
Tucked in the corner was a table of ten guests dressed in their Easter Sunday best. Boy, were they whooping it up. Contagious laughter burst forth every few minutes, and we could not help but smile at the belly-laughing we heard. Behind us under the shade of a canvas patio umbrella was a family with a baby in a high chair. Babies laugh, but they also cry. And in autism world, a baby’s cry, depending on the intensity, duration, and other factors, can mean a meltdown for the person with autism. I hoped we could enjoy this wonderful meal on this wonderful day without a meltdown, but occasional shrieks did keep me alert.
When the food arrived with its aromas of perfectly grilled salmon and steaks, I tucked a cloth napkin into Zach’s shirt collar. We go through about a bottle and a half of stain remover every week due to his shirts substituting as a napkin. Plus, the white triangle situated on his chest added a hint of formality. It reminded me of Lord Grantham dining in his Downton Abbey dining hall.
Our attentive waiter made sure everything was to our liking, and it was. Zach dove into his plate with such enthusiasm that remnants of his lunch scattered in all directions. Think Cookie Monster in all his enthusiasm…
Zach also has a way of discarding ice cubes after he’s finished a glass of water. If there’s no sink nearby, well, the pavement will suffice. And he makes sure no stubborn cube remains in the glass. Envisioning the baby getting bonked by a miniature block of ice, I made a grab for the empty glass. Too late. The baby was fine, but ice splayed on the ground, and I could see our newbie waiter slip-siding with a tray of lovely food that would be dumped on someone’s linen lap. I extended my legs and scooped the ice under my chair with my feet.
“Another glass of Chardonnay, Ma’am?”
“Yes…I think I will, thank you.” Why not? It was a holiday, and my husband could finish it if I didn’t. Zach would have a few sips, too.
It felt blissful to linger at the table in the sunshine. Zach enjoyed a bowl of blood orange sorbet (although his shirt did, too). The waiter stood over my shoulder and asked if there would be anything else. We couldn’t fit another bite. He asked how we liked the meal. We expressed just how wonderful the food was and how we so enjoyed everything. We joked, knowing he saw Zach’s shirt, that Zach really liked his meal.
“That’s good,” he said with a smile. “I won’t be giving you a check today.”
The words sort of hovered in the air by my head. I looked up at him. I looked at my husband, whose own face looked puzzled.
“What?” I said, covering my forehead with my hand to keep the sun from my eyes.
“I won’t be giving you a check today…I can’t.”
Again, there was some silence and hesitation as we just stared at each other.
“Your entire meal has been taken care of,” he said. “A lady asked me for your check. She paid for everything, and a tip, so don’t worry about that.”
My entire body broke out in a giant wave of goosebumps. I began to leak water from my eyes, which prompted Zach to take his soggy, sorbet-soaked cloth napkin and wipe my face.
“Who? What…how? Everything? I ordered two glasses of wine! Did she know that? We got dessert! Oh my goodness! She paid for everything?” I was sobbing.
“I think she’s still over there…” the waiter turned left and gave a little nod with his chin. Three tables away, in the corner, was a site impossible to miss. It took my breath away. The memory of how it looked is captured within my brain. It was simply that stunning.
While we dined, cumulus clouds had floated over the city, and the sun had gradually lowered. This provided moments of sun-shade-sun-shade. A scene in slow motion, I looked to my right. Just then, the sun peeked through a cloud at such an angle that a soft, yellow-white beam of sparkling light landed on a woman at that corner table. It shone on her, and her alone, and she shimmered in the solar spotlight. Her white dress was absolutely glowing against her dark skin. More tears fell from my eyes.
As if sensing my gaze, she slowly turned and looked right at me. The rays caught the frame of her glasses and sparkled. There was a soft nod of her head to the side, and I extended both of my hands toward her and waved with my right. She waved back.
“Yeah, that’s her,” said the waiter. “I’ve never seen this happen before…but I’ve heard about it…pretty incredible.”
“Yes, it is…incredible. Pretty incredible.” I stammered.
The waiter gave a little bow and walked off, and as he did, the woman in the white dress approached us. I realized my hands were still extended, and she extended hers. We just locked hands, and she softly said, “Hello.”
“Hi. I …don’t know what to say…thank you doesn’t seem to be sufficient. This is an incredible gift you gave us. Thank you.” I squeezed her hands. Her dark eyes were gentle and kind. Zach reached out to wipe my eyes, and my husband stood up. He gave her a hug, and she patted his back.
“I saw your family, here, having a nice lunch, enjoying yourselves, taking such good care of that boy, and I thought it’s been such a long, terrible time. No school for these kids, you’ve probably been home a lot, and I know what that is like. I was a special education teacher, and that’s a lot of work. I just felt I wanted to do something for you.”
I could not stop the tears and found myself wrapped in her arms. She patted my back. We stepped back, and I said, “What is your name?” I had it in mind to pray that night and thank God for the kindness of this woman.
“Cheryl,” she said. “I’m Cheryl.”
I squeezed her hand again and felt strength, warmth, and power in it. Her hands, her eyes, her smile – there was something extraordinary about this woman. I told her I’d never forget this. We prompted Zach to use his device to thank her, which he did, and to that, with delight in her voice, she said, “Aw, that’s alright, it’s alright. Yes, it is.” And as she turned and walked away, her white dress flowed like angel wings in the breeze.
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