It was our second Sunday for the month at the beachfront restaurant. As we did last week, we planned to have breakfast, lunch, and maybe even dinner. We’d do some writing, discuss our projects, and spend time catching up. With the mother’s day crowd started piling in and the restaurant grew noisy, we decided to cut it short. We ordered lunch for takeaway and chatted whilst we waited for our order.
As the restaurant owner walked away from our table after informing us she needed our table for a bigger party, my friend and I sat quietly. You can sit on one of the benches on the beach, she said, offering up a weak smile and then walking away. Her request wounded me a little. As someone who ate there at least twice a week, it hurt a bit. My mind was ablaze with questions. Was our race a factor? It did not pass on us that we were the only black persons on a table for ourselves. Why us? Were the tables really reserved? We were there for breakfast and the only ones in the empty restaurant for some part of the morning. No one said anything to us about reserved places and none of the tables were marked reserved. And why did we have to sit on a bench in the sun that did not even have an umbrella whilst the people we were to give up our table for sat in the cool shade?
One of the wait staff showed up about two minutes later with a sheepish look on her face. She needed us to move, immediately. I told her we would not be moving, as we didn’t want to give up our table inside the restaurant to sit on a bench outside in the 3 pm sun. She nodded in understanding and slips away. Her boss, the owner seemed surprised to see is still there. She shares a quick whisper with the wait staff that came over earlier and then makes her move to the table. I take a deep breathe and ask the Divine to help me handle this matter with grace. In a clear, calm voice, I let her know that we would not be giving up our seats to sit on a bench in the sun. She offered some chairs at the stairs near the exit. We gathered our things and moved to avoid a scene. We settled the bill and took away our third food order of the day and left quietly.
I got home and still could not shake the experience, even though I did my best to get on with the day. As I headed to bed that night, on impulse, I grabbed ‘Yesterday I Cried‘ from a very busy bookshelf in the living room. I opened to a random page that spoke these words:
When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you treat them you will treat yourself. As you think of them you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in them you will find yourself or lose your Self. – Excerpt from ‘A Course in Miracles’ via ‘Yesterday I Cried‘.
Selah. I’m thankful for the way I responded in what was an unpleasant situation. Had I reacted to the offense, I would not be able to grasp the holiness of the situation. I would also have deprived myself of embracing the teaching moment before me. It’s easy to get riled up and let egos and emotions get wild. When she came back to the table insistent that we move, I decided that I would not let her rudeness become my problem. We agreed to move but we refused to sit in the sun and let her know so.
I took a few deep breaths. With as much grace as I could muster, I took a seat on the uncomfortable Adirondack chair she placed at the exit. I continued to practice my breathing and stilled my tongue. We paid the bill, collected the order and then left. My friend remained quiet all this time. It hit her hard. As an African American woman now living in the Caribbean, the experience stirred up feelings of discrimination. It reminded her of Rosa Parks, too.
I am learning that no matter what happens, there is grace for every situation, and I must lean into it. Even when I feel offended or wronged. I can choose to speak my truth and honor myself by responding in a way that does not create unnecessary drama. I am learning to pick my battles. I am learning to distill teaching moments and holiness from all encounters. I am learning. I am growing.