Zack was hungry and had a new ATM card to try out so he and I headed to Chipotle. It was a Wednesday night and the place was empty except for five employees waiting to serve us and one woman who walked in moments before we did.
In my usual mama-bear-mode-of-operation I immediately sized up this woman at the front of our line of three. When I stop to think about the way I still calculate to make sure someone is safe to be around my son I know it sounds ridiculous. He is 22 years old, weighs 195 pounds, and is tactilely defensive enough that no one could touch him inappropriately without the entire room hearing about it. Still, my automatic pilot kicks in and I sum up each person we encounter, if only to determine how reined in I need to keep Zack.
The woman under current evaluation was dressed in baggy clothes and men’s levi jeans. Her hair was cropped. She looked like someone I used to know and had mixed feelings about. Zack walked toward her as he checked out the ingredients behind the protective glass shield and I called him back to my side. Then I began ordering his burrito and my burrito bowl. But moments later he was close to her again.
I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind I always wonder what people are thinking about Zack, but they usually understand quickly that something is very different about him. Then they are no longer alarmed by his overly friendly behavior. Unless, of course, they are a young, pretty girl who he is waving hello to while breaking appropriate boundaries of the personal bubble we all have. Or, at least, all of us except Zack. When that happens, I speak up quickly to help the person understand he is harmless.
This woman didn’t fit in that category, so I wasn’t overly concerned with her reaction.
As I ordered half the usual amount of brown rice and black beans to keep our carbs low, she ordered white rice and pinto beans. No, I was not eavesdropping on her interaction with the person making her burrito. It’s just impossible not to hear what people are ordering at Chipotle when you’re waiting for them to finish so you can start.
I ordered veggies and chicken. She skipped all the meat and every form of vegetable, and ordered sour cream and cheese. That’s when the judge-of-healthy-eating-habits in me brought down a gavel in my mind, condemning her poor choices. A burrito with white rice, pinto beans, sour cream and cheese … ewwwwwwww.
I chided myself for being judgmental and self-righteous about food. Just because I have food allergies and can’t eat cheese or sour cream doesn’t mean I have to make it a matter of virtue, for Pete’s sake. I felt like a hypocrite, knowing I would have added both items if dairy didn’t make me sick. I mean, who really cares anyway?
Then again … to skip all the healthy food and only order that … it’s just not right.
I paused in my internal dialogue long enough to call Zack back from his third excursion into burrito-with-nothing-healthy-in-it’s private space.
She turned and smiled at me pleasantly.
I vowed to put my inner judge into retirement for good. Then I returned to ordering. But for no explainable reason, I suddenly veered from my usual order to ask for a double portion of chicken—an unheard of extravagance. And when the person in the hairnet asked if I wanted guacamole, instead of resisting or splitting it with Zack, I ordered it for both of us, telling myself it was “good-for-you-fat.”
Zack and I watched as another person in a hairnet with plastic gloves on wrapped Zack’s burrito in foil and covered my bowl, and I handed Zack his debit card to pay. But the person at the register only looked at me and said, “The person before you paid for your meal.”
Just let that sink in for a moment.
Burrito-with-nothing-healthy-in-it lady paid for our meal-that-was-way-more-than-I’ve-ever-ordered-before. Not only that … woman-judged-completely-by-outward-appearances paid for the dinner of woman-and-special-needs-overly-friendly-space-invading-young-man-who-she’s-never-met-before.
I wanted to know where she was. To meet her. To say thank you. To explain that we had plenty of money and she didn’t need to pay for us.
But all I could do was step into the grace and kindness that she left in her wake.