We Are Family
As we begin our first steps into the alluring unknown of a new year, I’m reminded of a breakfast I had last fall at a Silver Diner restaurant in Virginia shortly after the bombing of a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburg. Everything that happened at that diner counter was a testament to my immense love of humanity, and it’s why I welcome this new year like a kid skipping into Disney World: bring on the magic, the fireworks, the cast of characters!
That breakfast happened October 29, 2018, two days after the synagogue bombing. Fall was just starting to update the foliage of northern Virginia with red and gold accents. I had finished the last East Coast event on my national speaking tour the day before, and was driving around the wealthy city of Fairfax in a borrowed minivan running errands. Hunger pangs hit while I was stopped at a red light. Silver Diner was on the corner. And “Ohhh omelette!” popped into my head.
Normally when I go into a restaurant in America I am aware that I do not blend in. My head is closely shaved and I do not wear makeup, and it’s easy to spot those who are uncomfortable with this look (is she sick or just defiant?), those who find it daringly admirable (rebel!), and the rare few who could care less. For me, the look is just a convenience I’m used to. I’ve spent much of the last seven years in a Buddhist nunnery in the Himalayas, where shaved heads and no makeup are the norm. And now that look makes my extensive travels easier with zero hair care or beauty products to worry about.
So I was expecting a few of the usual side-eyes when I entered this suburban diner. Instead, I found myself immersed in a world where such diversity thrived…
The bosomy, rosy-cheeked hostess looks like her other job is probably rocking premie babies to sleep in a NIC-U. She can barely contain her enthusiasm when I enter, and she half-shouts, “Of course! Make yourself at home!” when I ask if I can sit at the counter.
I order a Oaxaca omelette, a Mexican food-inspired dish, that is served up by “Uncle Vinny,” a plump Kris Kringle-ish Latino man with eyes that — I am not exaggerating — twinkle with glee when I ask for extra hot hot sauce.
As I am eating this Mexican food-inspired omelette that was served to this shaved-headed white woman by this jolly Latino man at this diner counter in Commonwealth suburbia with a glad-you’re-here-hon mama holding watch over the door, I become aware that the music playing overhead is The Village People’s “YMCA.” I cannot stop grinning.
Halfway through the omelette, now with Sister Sledge singing “We Are Family” overhead, a large, middle-aged drag queen is seated at a table behind me. He begins talking in a loud raspy voice about beauty tips with an elderly woman who appears to be his mother. He says, “It’s all about the eyebrows and nose, you know. That’s what brings out a queen’s true beauty.”
Now I’m just over the moon with delight at all that’s going on. As I’m taking in this moment appreciatively, a very old white man next to me taps me on the shoulder and sweetly asks if I wouldn’t mind scooting down one seat so his friend could join him. So I scoot.
While his friend, a younger Indian man, is taking his seat he is also looking for a photo on his phone. Shortly he says to the old man, “This is what I was talking about,” as he shows his friend the photo. “Can you believe that’s a Hindu temple?”
The old man says, “No, wow, it’s so ornate. Is that in India?” The friend replies, “No. It’s in West Virginia.” The old guy nods and pauses thoughtfully for a moment, then says, “I spent some time with my Jewish friends online this morning. Just wanted them to know I care.”
My heart grips tight and I become aware of the refrain of “We Are Family” playing overhead. I cannot hold back the tears. I stop eating, put $20 on the counter, wave goodbye to Uncle Vinny and leave to go cry in the minivan with unabashed joy and gratitude for the diverse range of humanity I get to witness.
I get to witness. It’s all mine to appreciate if I choose to be aware enough to do so. And I damn well do.
Our magic, our fireworks, our cast of characters — it’s all here. Always, here. In any moment, when we have the intention to look and listen, we get to see there’s a festive spectacle going on all around us.
In this new year, more of us are going to look for it. More of us are going to listen for it. More of us are going to take advantage of getting to witness the blessed spectacle that is humanity. Because that’s what happens when we wake up. We can’t stop ourselves from experiencing life differently.
When we view life through these lenses of wonder and fascination and awe, it makes it easy to remember our cherishing nature. It makes it easy not just to love others, but to BE love in witness to others.
And what better resolution does humanity need this year than to incite more BEing of love?