“I was a pretty cocky kid.”
It’s something that I get to hear a lot lately, especially when connecting with old friends from high school and college. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be that guy, the one who looks back while on the second half of a standard life and calls himself stupid, but that’s exactly what I’ve started doing. I was a cocky, stupid kid.
There are several instances that I can recall that had an effect on the way that I grew and would eventually point me to dedicate my life to Christ. One of those events was very small, so small that the person I “wronged” likely doesn’t even remember the incident.
I was managing a steak house in Oklahoma City. I was the youngest of the managers of what was supposed to be a summer job and ended up supporting my young family for three years. I was cocky (and did I mention I was stupid as well?) and took pride in my ability to diffuse situations. It wasn’t a fancy steak house. In fact, it was a two-story, 550-seat monster that served hundreds of steaks every night.
One particular evening I was helping one of the servers by taking the order. It was a special day for the patriarch of the family and they were celebrating – what exactly I don’t recall or perhaps never knew. The special day man had one important request – no Texas toast. His wife (or daughter, couldn’t tell for sure) said that he was extremely allergic to anything that had bread and I assured her that no bread would touch his plate. I plugged in the order, put the special instructions in all caps (NO BREAD NO BREAD NO BREAD) and went on to see to the hundreds of other guests as well as the staff.
I was walking by the table, just checking in, when the food came. Time went into slow-motion mode as the plate was put down in front of him with a big, buttery piece of Texas toast right smack dab on his 14 oz. ribeye. The look on the wife/daughter’s face has always stuck with me. It was pure disappointment, shock, and even a little bit of fear all flashing before me in technicolor slow motion.
Instantly, I reached down and grabbed the plate, but the man grabbed my arm. His fury was clear. I told him that I would get him a new steak, but refused to let go. He wanted to keep that steak hostage to make certain that we didn’t just take it to the back, pull of the bread, and reserve the same steak. I assured him that we wouldn’t do that but he was firm. He didn’t believe me and that made me mad.
In the same situation today, I wouldn’t have tried to take the steak back. In fact, I would have left one more instruction on the ticket – “Page ME for delivery”. I would have made certain that the bread didn’t go on his plate. Instead, I allowed myself to get angry. I took it out on the staff that couldn’t read instructions. I took it out on the table that had a special occasion ruined. I didn’t even comp the meal because of my petty, stupid, cocky anger.
For all I know, they never thought about it again. For all I know, the man was emotionally unstable and hurt someone that night due to my mistakes. His grip was very strong, the type of grip that one can’t get by working out. It only comes from working through life with your hands.
It’s the fear in the wife/daughter’s eyes that I’ve never been able to shake for two decades. Mad – understandable. Disappointed – who wouldn’t be? Fear – that’s something that was distinct. She wasn’t looking at me. She was looking at him. She was waiting for his response. I don’t recall if I truly saw it out of the corner of my eye or if it has emerged through my imagination over the years, but I think she even looked up at me with a subtle, desperate shake of her head as I tried to pry the plate from his grip as if she was warning me that this many might kill me over the mistake.
We never know the effects of our actions. We don’t know what little thing we might do that causes someone to snap, something bad to happen, or something life-changing that could have been avoided by being a little less stupid, a little less cocky, and a lot more like a believer in Jesus Christ should act.
I never had the chance to apologize properly to the family. Maybe that’s why it stuck with me for all of these years. The slow motion look of mixed, terrible emotions – I pray that my little act of defiance didn’t cause pain to anyone.