Sometimes, when you're cooking, the nicest thing is to have people standing around talking to you while you're working. Today, I stood by as an elderly man chopped vegetables for a salad. He lives, unbelievably, with his father. He cannot cook, and if his father does not cook for the two of them, he has a bowl of cereal. So I dragged in a grocery bag of vegetables, and turkey and cheese, and today, he made a salad.
He is a tall man, thin, quiet, nervous. I directed him through the washing. I directed him through the chopping, and as he chopped, he began to talk.
He talked about the new guy at his job who laughs at him. He 'tries the best he can,' he tells me.
I've no doubt that this is so. So I try to think of the helpful thing to say, and finally come up with "You know, sometimes, people are just mean, and there's nothing you can do about that. You just remember that you are doing the best job that you can, and that in the end, that guy doesn't really matter."
He thinks of this while he's chopping his vegetables, slowly and carefully. He tells me, "If you teach me how to cook, maybe I could get a job at a restaurant."
"Maybe," I say, but inside, I feel terrible for him. He's asking for such a small thing...to work his job without being tormented by his coworkers.
We're running out of time. I give him his salad to take home for his supper that night. He is so tickled with that salad. Unbelievably happy that he has made this salad by himself. He heads towards the hall, carefully carrying his bag with his salad and the creamy garlic dressing I got for it. I say, "I'll see you next week," and he turns to say, "And we will cook?" I tell him that yes, we will cook. He smiles gently and says, "Thank you, my friend." And he turns once again with his shy and awkward gait, shuffles down the hall.
I feel it again. That rush of gladness, the knowledge that I fit in this place. That I can make a difference here. It astonishes me how the smallest gestures can mean so very, very much.