A CHANCE TO GO HOME

By Mohan Karulkar: I’ve been travelling for business the last few days, and while I’ve been with two co-workers, I’ve also spent a fair share of the time alone.  Last night, I went down to the hotel restaurant intending to kill a few solitary hours reading and answering some emails.  Instead, because I was alone, I ended up talking to a waitress for about 2 hours.  She was an older lady from Bangladesh, and over the course of our conversation, she laid out a life story that broke my heart.

Here it is in a nutshell.

She came here with her husband in 1997.  Now, she’s divorced, with her ex-husband estranged, somewhere back in Bangladesh.  Her two adult kids are also divorced, each with kids of their own and estranged spouses.

She has worked herself to the bone for years trying to support them and the grandkids.  She toiled 100 hours a week managing a small bar for a few years, until she finally ran out of steam and had to quit.  In the meantime, she missed the death of her dad, several aunts, and a brother, all back in Bangladesh.  Now her mom and another sister are ill, and she just wants to go home.  Instead, she works at a tiny hotel restaurant, simultaneously cooking, waitressing, and tending bar.

Despite her burdens, she tried to keep a tolerant -- if not positive -- attitude while telling her story.  Her smile seemed to say, “what are you gonna do?”  She seemed satisfied with existing, and simply hoping for the best.

But to me, it was frustrating.  Maddening, even.  She just wants to go home, and surely, after so much loss and difficulty, she deserves that.

Our hearts are wired to root for others, and there's no way around it.  I was rooting for her almost the second she started her story.  I wanted to leave a giant tip to send her home.  But I couldn't, and I didn't see any rich oil barons around. So I did what I could by leaving a sizable -- but less than "giant" -- tip, and heading back to my room.

One small step, I guess.

But I've been thinking about it ever since.  It's tantalizing to think that maybe just one incredible act of kindness could change everything for her.  One ticket home could transform the entire trajectory of her life, and give her the second chance my heart knows she deserves. And while one sort-of generous tip isn't going to do it, maybe it'll help her stay positive for another day.

There are people all around us that are one step away from their second chance. Maybe it's a job. Maybe it's a miracle. Or maybe it's just a ticket home.

We can't be everyone's second chance, but maybe we can be someone's. In the meantime, live with eyes open, and rest assured that even the small steps make a difference.

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