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Mike Kerrigan: During coronavirus shutdown, the waitress who tipped me – and other Easter miracles

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The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the reality the future is promised to nobody. None of us knows the final day or hour. Yet who lives every day with the vigilance such grim knowledge requires? I don’t.

This thought crossed my mind recently when, in response to North Carolina’s stay-at-home order, my favorite local diner closed. I love diners for two reasons. First, they are good for three squares a day. Second, any place that touts breakfast for dinner is aces in my book.

Diners also attract a refreshingly wide cross-section of Americans. After all, who from doctor to dockworker does not like reasonably priced comfort food? They call to mind the once-popular slogan in my favorite Western state – Wyoming is what America was. So are diners.

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Of course, not all diners are created equal. This particular diner is my favorite one because it employs my favorite waitress. Her smile is what I first noticed about her. It’s the smile of a resolute woman, someone who has seen her share of sadness but believes tomorrow will be better. She’s an old soul.

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I always request to be seated in her section, and she knows my family very well. She brings over my regular order – two eggs over easy, country ham, Texas Pete and wheat toast – without even bothering with a menu. She looks the other way when my kids take more jellies from the table than they should. They adore her.

But here’s the thing. I know the basics about her life – first name, age of her son and daughter and such – but not much beyond that. Is she married, or a single mom? From where did she emigrate? What did she do in her native country, and what made her leave it for America? And that smile. What caused, or is causing, the sadness?

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I know none of this and realize it too late when circumstances have taken away her livelihood and our interactions. I should have done more to stay connected when I had the chance. Knowing not the day or hour of the coronavirus I, unprepared, lost contact with someone who’s now in need.

This was my thinking about a week ago, but then I remembered something truly wonderful. Easter is coming and with that a guarantee of victory over death. More to the point, I still had time.

I called the telephone number for management that was pasted on the diner’s locked front door. Someone picked up, gave the waitress my cellphone number and we connected. I’ll help her as I can until she gets back on her feet.

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It wasn’t only the Easter season that drove me from sluggishness to action, although that certainly was part of it. It was the waitress’s first name, Betelehem. It reminded me of the love that can heal our broken and suffering world, coronavirus and all. The darker the night, the more glorious the dawn.

Mercy, did I need that reminder. Turns out I needed her more than she needed me.

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