Saturday, September 15, 2007

"When the game is over, the king and pawn go into the same box..."--unknown

"We are ever dying to one world and being born into another..." Thoreau

"When you hear that my body has ceased to exist, please do not feel sad. Just look deeply and see that my life and work continue in so many friends, so many young people, in their own ways and through their work. I will continue in everyone and everything I have ever touched. I have nothing to fear and nothing to regret."--Sister Chan Khong

If you work in a restaurant like mine long enough, your guests will start to die. Obviously [or hopefully] not all of them, but in my type of restaurant the clientele just tends to be more mature. We aren't a hospice by any means, and there are plenty of young people at our tables [more and more each night that are younger than I], but we still serve a big chunk of wealthy older folk. These more "seasoned" guests range from the just retired to the barely breathing and for the most part they make the same general impressions as any other guests--there are the awful, the bad, the unassuming, the good, the great, and the epic, all in percentages relative to those of the younger clientele.

The shining stars among these older guests are some of the finest people one can ever hope to know. It has been my great honor and privelege to have met and gotten to know scores of these wonderful individuals over my career, with some of the very finest among them touching my life over the last decade.

Dinner out is a ritual for many of these people, treated with reverence and given special consideration even if the process is repeated six or seven times a week [and it often is]. You are their "Monday night place", their "Wednesday steak", or the "Saturday tag-along" where the alpha male among each clicque of rich old people brings the same group to the same table in the same restaurant at the same time every Saturday, his treat. The best of them are witty, genteel, mannered, and charming. They have an old-world elegance that is enriched with an understanding of the modern world and an interest in keeping current. The man who has a 1972 Eldorado in pristine condition also owns a Mercedes s550 and his wife, wearing her hair the same way since Nixon was President, is likely to be decked out in Dolce & Gabbana.

They are highlights of your otherwise difficult evenings. They are generous, but the money doesn't matter after a while--they are nice, and genuinely happy to be in your restaurant and even to be around you. They are just good people who know how to behave, and you go out of your way to make everything perfect for them.

But, as I said, they are old. As time goes on, they get older. Their swift gaits eventually become more measured, until one day they are aided with canes. The canes sometimes give way to walkers, and from there often to wheelchairs. One day, they just don't come anymore.

I have held back tears as I watched an 80 year-old man grimly face our front stairs, determined to master his new prosthetic leg rather than enter our side doors in a wheelchair.

I have routinely dropped everything and put myself hopelessly in the weeds in order to walk my most favorite guest from his car to his table. This man, once hale and fit, eventually became so frail that getting anywhere without a fall was a victory. Ever keen of mind, even as his body wasted, we would make small talk and pretend things were just right as I nearly carried him through our dining room. Until my dying day I shall remain eternally honored that he would allow only me to give him this aid in public.

This great man finally found himself in dire straits, faced with a harrowing decision. Face a surgery that would probably restore much of his quality of life, but one that was also extremely dangerous due to the weakness of his body. After speaking with his wife, he decided that if he was to continue to live, he wanted to live right, and he signed on for the procedure.

At 9:11am on 09.11.07 this wonderful man was called home to his Maker. His poor body, unable to endure the rigors of the procedure, surrendered one of the most wonderful souls I have ever encountered to an eternity free of pain and infirmity. I have no doubt that the welcoming group waiting to usher him through Heaven's gates was both impressive and enthusiastic.

For those of us who have decided to do this permanently, a certain amount of connection is necessary. Remembering names, birthdays, favorite tables, regular drinks, steak temps. etc.--all very inportant--these are the things that make us different, make us better, and make us someone's "home away from home". Sometimes, though, that connection all by itself becomes much, much more. I miss many of these people as if they were my own relatives, passed on but not forgotten. I feel their absence, and I selfishly regret their departure. Since Patriot's Day, it has been a good deal worse than usual.

Eternal rest grant unto Them O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon Them. May Their souls and all the souls of the Faithful Departed through Your mercy rest in peace. Amen.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Restaurant Gal said...

Amen.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous jabes said...

Beautifully written.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Kris said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Very well said. I've had a few very special people like that over the years myself, and miss them still, even as I know they are once again walking with a swift gait, and dancing amongst the stars. I always hope they know how blessed *I* am to care for them.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am going to paraphrase this - so be kind:

"I don't cry when they die - instead I rejoice that they lived"

I am sorry for your loss - but think how your life was enriched by their presence. That is the only way I have been able to deal when close people pass on.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

Here's an irony. One of my sweet wonderful regulars who has been struggling for the past few months passed early Wednesday morning. I thought of you, and this thread.

The comment above this one about rejoicing that they lived...absolutely true. Gordon is free of his failing body, and he's dancing with the angels.

5:16 AM  

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