It’s Saturday night. The first round of tables is seated and eating. That means there’s a lull until the dessert madness begins. Everyone takes a breather.
I’m standing by the beverage dispenser hydrating myself with club soda. Saskia, one of the new busgirls, comes by and pours herself a Coke. She smiles at me. I smile back.
Saskia is about eighteen. Her mother is Japanese, her father’s rich, white, and important. The result of their union is a young woman who is rapidly developing into an exotic beauty. In a few more years she’ll be breaking hearts. Perhaps she is already.
A senior in high school, dating a famous actor’s son, she’s won early acceptance to Cornell. Her father, a self made man, used to work in a restaurant and wants his daughter to experience “how the other half lives.” He made a few calls and now she works for us. Like I said – he’s important.
She’s chatting, as young girls do, about her boyfriend. Being older and invisible I nod and make all the polite noises. She’s in love, eighteen going on forty, and knows everything.
Ernesto, the sous chef, pops out of the kitchen, and pours himself a Sprite.
“How’s it going Poppy?” I ask
“Same shit different day cabron,” he replies.
“Siempre mierda,” I say smiling.
“Si,” Ernesto sighs heading back into the kitchen.
“Later amigo,” I call after him.
“What a sad little man,” Saskia says when Ernesto’s out of earshot.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because all he’s ever going to be is a cook. What a limited existence. I mean there is so much of the world to discover and he’s never going to see any of it.”
Her comment pisses me off.
I want to tell Saskia that Ernesto WALKED a good part of the way from Nicaragua to live in the US. He’s worked thousands of hours to get money to bring over the rest of his family. While the other busgirls take a bus home to a tenement, Saskia hails a cab and returns to a palatial abode.
I’m about to say, “You’re young and don’t know shit,” when suddenly I remember somebody I used to know.
He’s a young man, a divinity student, not much older than Saskia. Floating in a cloud of incense and tradition, he possesses very definite ideas of how the world ought to be. Excelling academically in theology and philosophy he understands nothing about how real people move and live and have their being. Looking at the world through stained glass windows he’s rigid, analytical and arrogant. A good kid, don’t get me wrong, idealistic and compassionate, he struggles unconsciously to find his identity. He doesn’t have a clue.
That young man used to be me.
God and I had a lover’s quarrel. The stained glass window shattered long ago. So much happened…. An intense love was joyously found then lost. Friends were cut down in their prime by disease and circumstance. People I assumed irretrievably lost found redemption; the sick were made whole, evil men triumphed, babies were born, and the world made less and less sense. I passed from certitude into the cloud of unknowing.
I look at Saskia and my wounding comment dies in my throat. For the first time I understand what my elders mean when they say “youth is wasted on the young.” Saskia is arrogant but then again that’s the way it should be. Time will be her teacher.
“You’re a nice girl Saskia, but in twenty years I’ll bet your opinion of Ernesto will change,” I say instead.
Saskia stares at me blankly.
“You’ll feel differently when you’re older,“ I add gently for emphasis.
“Thanks Obi-Wan. Coming from a waiter in his thirties that means a lot,” she says sarcastically.
Saskia and I don’t speak much after that.
Four years later…………………………………………………………………………..
I’m sitting in a bar appreciating a perfectly poured Guinness Stout when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn.
It’s Saskia. My prediction was on target. She’s turned into a ravishing beauty. She’s graduated from Cornell.
“You know I want to apologize to you,” she says.
“Why?” I ask confusedly.
She reminds me of what she said about Ernesto four years ago and what she said to me. I had forgotten all about it until that moment.
“I never forgot what you said to me,” she says. “And you were right.”
“Don’t sweat it,” I say, “I’m learning more about how little I know everyday.”
We share a pint. She’s going to law school. She’s broken some hearts and had it broken in return. There’s some hard won wisdom in her eyes that wasn’t there four years ago.
I drive home. Four years! I’m amazed that Saskia remembered my comment. You never know what effect you’re gonna have on people. Serendipity? Or is there a larger plan at work?
My thoughts drift back to a time when my godfather and I were in a museum. We’re looking at a medieval tapestry. He’s intently studying the back of it. Puzzled I join him.
“What do you see here?” he asks me.
The back of the tapestry is rough and frayed, betraying the handiwork of the person who made it. The colors are mottled and muted. There’s a lot of darkness.
“A mess,” I reply.
“Yes,” he smiles. “I like looking at the back of the tapestry because it’s a lot like real life. A mess. It makes no sense, there seems to be no order or beauty.”
Then, his arms on my shoulders, he moves me to the front of the tapestry. I look at it. Undimmed by the centuries – it’s gorgeous.
“But every once in a while God gives you a glimpse of the other side and it all begins to make sense,” he says gently.
I’m silent. I know something important has happened but I’m too young to understand.
I look at my godfather. He’s a Byzantine Catholic priest. With his beard and flowing robes he really looks like an Obi-Wan – except he’s the real thing.
“No one is unimportant. We all play a part in designing life’s tapestry. You never know what your effect on people is going to be. When you think the world is ugly, makes no sense, remember there is always another side. If you’re lucky God will grant you a peek.”
“Uh-huh” I nod.
“Remember life is beautiful – even when you can’t always see it.”
Recalling that moment my eyes tear up. My godfather was right. My response to Saskia, unbeknownst to me, had a profound effect. Another stitch in the cosmic tapestry.
I don’t know where my life is headed or what its purpose is. But tonight Saskia gave me a glimpse of life’s interconnectedness. I think of my parents and family, of friends and mentors long gone. I think of the cast of characters I’ve encountered; Fluvio, Claude, Ernesto, Mr. Smooth, my coworkers – yes even the customers.
We’re all part of the tapestry my Obi Wan talked about it. On this frigid night driving home I catch a peek of the other side.
And it’s beautiful.