I was having lunch in a local restaurant recently, chatting up the patron sitting on the other side of me at the bar while my husband finished up an e-mail on his phone.
No, the guy beside me wasn’t from around there, he was from the next town over but he was there to pick up some business leads during the film festival that was going on.
He was in advertising, had gotten his degree in advertising, but really wanted to make documentary films. Did we like the weather? His hamburger came. “Can’t go wrong with a hamburger.”
I looked away for a moment and—when I looked back—saw that the hamburger had been entirely eaten and the guy was off his stool walking out with a “Nice talking to you, have a good day,” thrown over his shoulder as he seemed to be quickly heading toward the door.
“Boy, that was fast,” I thought.
That’s when it dawned on me.
“Did you know that guy?” the bartender asked.
“No,” I didn’t know him, I told her. “Did he pay his bill? I had the feeling he skipped on his bill.”
In fact, the bartender said, her face pale, he hadn’t paid. He hadn’t even asked for the bill. “He just up and left.”
What personal history and combination of factors results in a grown man sitting at a bar, chatting about his college degrees, ordering food from hardworking staff members, and stealing in such a petty way?
What brokenness was he hiding or was never addressed in him? What lack of self-awareness and lack of self-responsibility did he live with?
I have to admit, when I saw the look on the young bartender’s face it was hard not to judge the man as a thief; hard not to call him names and wish that he wasn’t in the world. Just as I was reaching for my wallet to cover what I thought the bartender was going to lose in wages, the manager came over.
“Don’t worry,” she waved her hand at me and told the bartender, “The house will cover it.”
I had a meditation teacher once who admonished us not to live life in such a way as to “leave a hole.”
“When we leave a hole, others fall into it,” she’d said.
I have never forgotten her wise words and thought of them when I experienced the hole that the guy next to me at the bar had left.
“Don’t worry, the house will cover it,” the manager had said.
Her words made all the difference to me. Instead of feeling uncomfortable because of what had happened, instead of having to fill the hole with my judgment or arrogance—“I would never leave a bill unpaid,” “I’m better than that,” “That guy’s a jerk,”—I felt the matter had been respectfully resolved.
I was impressed by the restaurant’s policy of supporting its staff, recognizing that they were not responsible for the weaknesses of others. It was a business policy that filled holes that strangers left so that others—their staff in particular—would not fall into them.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Natesh Ramasamy/Flickr