Ashley England went to dinner at the Stag-N-Doe pizza restaurant in China Grove with her family on Friday evening, including her 8-year-old son, Riley. The family was sitting at the table when Riley, who has special needs, began to get "a little rowdy."
"He threw the phone and started screaming," she recalled. "The past few weeks have been very hard and trying for us - especially with public outings. Riley was getting loud and hitting the table and I know it was aggravating to some people."
Just when England was ready to leave, a waitress appeared.
"I'll try to do this without crying," the waitress told the family. "But another customer has paid for your bill tonight and wanted me to give you this note."
The note read: "God only gives special children to special people."
England says the kindness of the mystery diner made her cry.
"To have someone do that small act towards us shows that some people absolutely understand what we are going through and how hard it is to face the public sometimes," she said. "They made me cry, blessed me more than they know - I felt like out of all the rude negative comments that we are faced with - these outweighs them. The people who care!"
She says she wants to say thank you to the person that paid for their meal and sent the encouraging words.
"Little did he know what struggles we had been facing lately and this was surely needed at that moment," she said. "Thank you!"
I'm glad that Ms. England reacted that way. Because it would have bugged the hell out of me.
I showed the note to my wife and we both agreed that if someone did that to us we'd want to punch him in the face. And neither one of us could put our fingers on exactly why we felt that way.
Oh, sure, the agnostic in me wanted to say, "How in the heck do you know why God does anything? You don't even know if God exists, so shut up!"
But there was more to it than that.
After reading David Brooks's column in the Times this morning, "The Art of Presence," I'm getting closer to it. Brooks writes about "how those of us outside the zone of trauma might better communicate with those inside the zone."
And here's the money quote (his emphasis):
Don’t say it’s all for the best or try to make sense out of what has happened. Catherine and her parents speak with astonishing gentleness and quiet thoughtfulness, but it’s pretty obvious that these tragedies have stripped away their tolerance for pretense and unrooted optimism.
And I think that's it: Don't try to cheer me up or tell me that everything happens for the best or that "God only gives special children to special people."
Because then I'll wish for something bad to happen to you and then pat you on the head and tell you that you should be grateful or something because God singled you out for this.
News flash: I don't feel special. And I don't want to be special. The truth is, I'd rather you were going through this than me. So keep your damn money and save me the patronizing note.