One day last week, T. and I stopped into a bakery/sandwich shop downtown for a quick bite. It was part of a Mama/T. afternoon out we had planned for some weeks. The sandwich shop is a popular lunch place, but we got there around 11:30, and easily found a booth by the window for the two of us. After about thirty minutes, the lunchtime crowd rolled in, and the family in the booth in front of us left. A well-dressed couple moved in to hawk the table, while the family gathered their belongings and left. The couple seemed a little out-of-place--the woman was extremely well-dressed, in a white lacy sort of short dress--the kind you'd see at a summer garden party. She wore expensive jewelry and beautiful high-heeled shoes. An enormous, expensive diaper bag hung from one white, slim wrist, and on one hip she carried an equally beautifully dressed baby who was about a year old. The husband of the couple seemed to be on a lunch break. He had a bluetooth in one ear, and was dressed for business--not for a garden party.
As soon as the large family left the booth in front of us the woman in white moved in. She frowned in disgust at the crumby table and handed the toddler to her husband.
"You take her with you in line," she said. "I can't put her at this messy table."
Then she stood, her eyebrows knitted in worry and disgust, as she surveyed the shop for someone to help her--someone--anyone--to wipe the table.
Eventually she spied a small Hispanic woman, who was carrying one of those large gray tubs for bussing tables. It was filled with plates and glasses, and she had a rag in one hand, and a spray bottle in an apron pocket.
"Excuse me," the woman in white said. "Could I please get someone to clean off this table now?"
The Hispanic woman nodded and pointed to her plastic bin and left. I understood the body language: let me put this bin down, and I will help you, but the woman in white clearly did not. She let out a humph of annoyance and stood, the diaper bag still hanging helplessly in one hand. She raised her voice at someone she took to be a manager-person--a man refilling the juices and milks bin by the front counter.
"Excuse ME," she said. "I need someone to wipe off this table!"
The manager/man nodded and scurried away and the woman continued to wait, the annnoyance she felt palpable around us. Then, as if by magic, the Hispanic woman reappeared, without her heavy gray bin, and began to wipe it down, while the woman in white gave directions in an brisk voice: wipe more here, over there. Be sure to do the high chair! Then, when the table had been cleaned to her satisfaction, without a nod or word of thanks to the woman who wiped it down, she took her baby and sat at last.
I knew--because we ALL know that, don't we?--that somewhere, in that gigantic designer diaper bag, that lady had a tub of wipes. I knew that it would have taken that woman all of one minute to wipe the table and highchair down. I knew this, because I've done it a million times. I would never ever ask someone to wipe down a table when I had, dangling from my own arm, the very means to do it myself. I marveled about the world that people like that lady in white live in--a world where there are such clear lines of demarcation between the jobs some people must and should do, and the jobs she herself could never do, no matter how simple, and obvious.
There are those who wipe tables, and those who don't.
I don't write all this to pass judgment on the woman, and to look down on her, because I think it was clear to me and to anyone watching her that day that in her world there would never be any question of wiping down a table in a restuarant. But I was so floored by that woman's actions that the scene bothered me for days. I felt like I'd been given an answer then and there in that restaurant: an answer to why there are still so many have nots, in a world full of haves; to why there is still racism and bigotry in every corner of the world; to why sometimes the people who work the hardest can't seem to get anywhere, while the people who never get their hands dirty just keep on moving up.
I think I saw a clear answer to why there are still children out there who grow up to be that woman in white--because the strongest most important lessons our kids will ever learn, are the lessons they learn from watching us.