I saw something extraordinary today. One of my favorite human beings on earth, a young man I met when I first came back to New York almost two years ago, had his last day at work today. He's been on a waiting list for the NYPD for three years and last night, he got the call. He starts in three days.
Employees come and go constantly at a restaurant. It's a tough job; many new staff members quit after a few months. M has been a waiter there for five years. He's a funny guy with a true heart of gold. I don't think he realized how important he had become to us all. He was here at work when he got the call. I didn't know about it until this morning when I came in to open the restaurant. A co-worker noticed that M's schedule had all been crossed out and I felt my gut hit the floor. M is the kindred spirit I've written about several times and we're very close. I don't want him to go into the police force but I understand his reasons for doing it. I love him deeply. We all do and today, he got a rare gift. He was shown how much he's loved.
He and I were both working lunch shifts. I saw him walk in at noon and immediately felt my eyes tear up. He gave me a wave and a warning look. All afternoon, co-workers came up to him, one after the other. Somebody brought in an ice cream cake and we all gave hugs and back slaps to cover the mixed bag of pride and dismay we were all feeling. The night shift began drifting in and with them, two more gigantic cakes, balloons and a set of cards for all of us to sign. I stood witness as a sea of people gathered round and watched as he got a whipped cream pie in the face. He laughed, several servers slipped in the whipped cream on the floor, and every hand came up with a camera phone, recording the whole thing. I grabbed mine out of my pocket and snapped a few shots.
A couple of us went out after our lunch shift, treating M to a steak dinner and cracking jokes that began to sound a bit tinny. The stress of losing him at work began to sink in. We talked and ate and smiled but there was a bittersweet sadness to it. M couldn't finish his meal and apologized to us. We didn't care. He could have sat and not touched any of it and we wouldn't have cared. We just wanted to prolong the moment. We just wanted to be with him.
They drove me home first. I sat in the back and listened to the banter between guys, my arms and legs holding down the mountain of helium balloons so they could see out the windows, and I thought, "What a beautiful thing I'm seeing. What an incredible feeling this is."
I took my shower and went upstairs to my room, where I immediately took out my phone to look at the photos. And I saw it again, the unseen thing that sat with us in the steak house. It was on every face in the photo, every grin, every soft and glistening eye in the background. Love. M was surrounded by people and every single one of them loved him. It wasn't the adoration of fans, or the camaraderie of funny acquaintances: it was love.
I sat on my bed and grinned, tears slipping down my cheeks as I stared and stared. To see something so incredible, to actually witness it and get photographic proof of it, overwhelmed me. Whenever my emotional coffers get empty, when I begin to feel jaded and weary with all the wickedness in the world, Fate throws me a bone. A kid helping an old man across the street, somebody holding a door open for a baby stroller, a teenager whispering "I love you" to his girl across the appetizers at work. Her getting up to sit beside him, squashed in a too-small booth but happy. This day, I was given an enormous gift. Proof of love. Even among the sarcastic and often dissatisfied wait staff, love. So good luck, my beloved friend. I'm so happy for you and so scared at the same time. But it feels good. And all that love made me feel...safer. The world is full of this kind of thing if you open your eyes and look. If M can have it, anybody can. Believe in love, my friends. It's there, even for us wretched insecurity addict goofballs. Believe in yourself. Love yourself. That's the beginning.