“I just wanted to tell you how beautiful your family is.”
Hearing that used to feel awkward. OK, well, I guess it still does. We’ve heard it so many times after mass, though, that we’ve kind of gotten used to it. Some folks are impressed by how well behaved our kids are. Others are just happy to see a larger-than-average young family attending mass faithfully.
I don’t mean any of this as a humblebrag. I really don’t. It just establishes a frame of reference for the strange experience we had coming home from Thanksgiving vacation.
We stopped at a Burger King for dinner on the way home from my in-laws’. I fed Ella and sat with the other kids while Amanda ordered our food. While she was gone, a couple older ladies stopped by our table on the way out. They told me how beautiful my family is, and had a pleasant conversation about names and ages with my older kids. Later, when we were well into our meal, a middle-aged mother and one of her teenage sons visited us. She had a similar conversation with the kids and also marveled over how blue their eyes all are.
After they left, I said to my wife something like, “Two pairs of people coming up to us and telling us how beautiful our family is during the same meal – how weird is that?!” To which my wife replies, “They’re not the only ones. Depending on when they finish their meal, the old couple on the other side of the restaurant might come over, too.” Apparently, they had struck up a conversation with my wife while she was waiting for our food to be ready.
Later, I ventured over to the other side of the restaurant to get some more ketchup packets. As I searched in vain from them (and eventually had to be helped by a cashier), they chatted me up. Can you guess what they told me? Well, as we discussed my beautiful family I continued my search for ketchup. While I was focused more on condiments than conversation, the old woman sidled up to me and stuffed a $20 bill in my hand.
I was flabbergasted. Gobsmacked even. I barely knew how to respond. After tripping over a couple thank-yous, I babbled something like, “I’d politely decline, but I can tell you’d insist.” She confirmed that she’d be offended if I refused the money, but said it with a chuckle. I thanked her again and returned to my table.
When Joel finished his dinner, he got a little rambunctious. To avoid chaos at the table, I decided to give him a little mission. I sent him over to the old couple to ask them their names so we could pray for them at bedtime. Natural ambassador that he is, he gladly accepted and executed the mission. He asked what he was supposed ask and had a nice conversation with them. He came back with a smile on his face, but he’d forgotten their names.
I needed to throw away some garbage anyway, so while I was over there I took the opportunity to learn their names are Cheryl and Gary. At least I think so. I have a terrible memory for names. Anyhow, they thanked me for praying for them. Cheryl and I agreed that we could all use all the prayers we can get. Gary then threw me a curveball by asking if I had a full-time job. I told him I’d recently finished a PhD and that I’m currently a stay-at-home dad. I’m not sure, but I kind of had the feeling he was going to offer me a job, or at least help me find one. Very strange.
As we packed up to get back on the road I babbled some awkward and superfluous thank-yous, and we said our goodbyes.
That’s it. No moral to the story. No deep philosophical or spiritual insights. Just confusion and questions. Just me left wondering what makes my family so striking that it prompts so many to tell us how beautiful it is. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I know I have a lot of blessings to be thankful for, including a loving wife and four wonderful children.
What makes my family so much more noteworthy than all the other loving marriages and happy homes out there?