Lee was already seated when we walked in the door at Mom Can Cook Thai restaurant. He was beginning to explain his custom order to the waitress as my 16-year-old son, and I sat down at the table next to him. He was very specific in his order, asking for the soup they serve at lunch combined with noodles from another dish. We caught each other’s eye as I picked up my menu.
My son already knew what he was going to order, but I was trying to decide between a couple of garlic dishes. As I looked up from the menu, he gently asked if we had eaten here before. I told him it was my third time and my son’s second and then he asked what we were going to order.
That was the beginning of a back and forth about food that was as vibrant and active as any conversation about taste and experience I’ve ever had with anyone. I had never met Lee before. But conversations like this with strangers are not unusual for our family.
Our kids sometimes joke about the fact that their parents, mainly their mom, have never really met a stranger. You can hear them utter beneath their breath, “oh no, please don’t start up a conversation” as one of us begins to get what they feel is “too familiar” with a complete outsider. It happens anywhere, grocery stores, restaurants, in line at the movies. We’re not discriminate.
On this evening, however, my son joined in. He was reserved at first, but soon he was telling stories of places he had eaten all over the world and engaging with this stranger like he was a friend.
When Lee’s food arrived, he slowly soaked up the aroma, using his hands to bring the smell to his nose. He then closed his eyes briefly, enjoying the moment. I don’t know if my son noticed, but I did. Based on the conversation we just had, it was perfect.
When we left the restaurant, my son said, “Lee was a nice guy, wasn’t he?” I replied in the affirmative and told him I thought he was interesting as well. And we entered into a conversation about people and relationships I hope he will remember for the rest of his life.
Relationships are everything. People are ordinarily friendly. You never know who you’re going to meet or how they might impact your life in some positive way. Don’t make assumptions about people based on their looks alone. Treat everyone with respect until they prove they don’t deserve it. Don’t be afraid of new conversations. Enjoy the moments when a chance meeting makes you smile and recognize the important things in life.
An excellent dinner with my son was made better by a man we may never see again. And my son understands better today why his mother and I enjoy engaging with people we’ve never met. I may not see Lee again, but I hope he left the restaurant feeling the same way about his conversation with strangers as we did about ours.
Lee, if you happen to stumble on this post one day… thank you.