While I’m happy to say that I think that our family has really taken to Catholicism over the last seven years, there is one item that makes one of the children still less than pleased. That child is Noah, and his less than favorite thing is meatless Fridays during Lent.
Really, in his defense, he doesn’t complain about it as long as we’re eating food at home. However, as soon as we find ourselves at a restaurant on a Lenten Friday, it’s hard for him to contain his displeasure. He still won’t complain, but it’s hard for him to hide his disdain for not getting to order something like a cheeseburger (which is one of his favorites).
When one Lenten Friday this year found us traveling out of state, it meant that both lunch and dinner would be from out. He sighed as he choked down a fish sandwich for lunch, which probably wasn’t made better by the fact that everyone else was fine to eat their fish sandwiches or fish bites. And, still worse, we were with more family, so we were the only ones whose only viable option at McDonald’s seemed to be fish.
Still, he got through it and on we went down the road.
When dinner time came (after we had arrived at our destination), however, it got a little more painful. The five of us ate with eight other family members. As we’re the only Catholics in our family, this meant everyone else was free to choose what they wanted at a diner that we hadn’t been to before. The menu looked amazing, and even I may have grumbled a bit about what I couldn’t order. In a funny twist, many of the adults opted for fish because it was the special.
Noah couldn’t figure out what to get, and finally settled on a breakfast special.
“You’re not going to be able to get the bacon with that, Noah,” I reminded. “We’ll see if they’ll let you substitute something for it.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said glumly.
When we ordered, I told the waitress that he would need to be meatless and asked for options, of which she sweetly gave him several. And then, when one of my nephews (who was sitting right next to Noah) ordered a cheeseburger, she got my attention and warned me of the cheeseburger ordering.
“Oh, it’s okay, he’s not one of mine,” I assured her, but I appreciated her concern.
While most of us happily ate away at our food and talked about how delicious it was, Noah picked at his. He didn’t complain, but I could tell that it was definitely not what he wanted and it didn’t really taste good to him. Still, he tried to eat some.
I told him, however, that I was proud of him. “It’s not a sacrifice if you never get faced needing to make the right choice.” He agreed that that was true. I suspect that it didn’t make the eggs taste any better though.
Finally – there was the breaking point. I saw his eyes fixate on his cousin’s half eaten cheeseburger when the cousin declared that he was full and wasn’t going to eat anymore.
Now, here’s where I have to interject to share something about Noah. He’s just this really likeable kid. He’s the kind of kid that is just so kind and polite that you want things to go his way. He’s the kind of kid that you root for. He’s the kind of kid that, when you know the challenges that he faces with Asperger’s and ADHD, you just kind of can’t help yourself but want to bring joy into this life, especially since he’s so appreciative of it when you do.
It’s with that being said that I will admit that it was a breaking point for me too. The waitress went to clear my nephew’s plate away and I couldn’t help myself.
“Wait!” I declared and she froze. “Noah, if you really want that cheeseburger, just have it. You’ll have to confess to knowingly having eaten it the next time you go to confession, but just do it if you want to.”
Yeah, I know. That wasn’t right of me. But, like I said, you have to know him to know why I was driven to break down like that.
All eyes on our half of the table were on him.
“No, I don’t want it. It’s not right,” he stoically said. I knew the first part wasn’t true. He did want it. But the second part was true. It wasn’t right, and he had been tempted to do what he had been taught was wrong by someone he trusts very much. Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? That makes it a lot harder to turn down that temptation.
(For my non-Catholic readers, you may be at the point where you are thinking, “It’s meat. Who cares? Your crazy church has you do crazy things.” But, here’s the thing. It’s part of our beliefs, and while it may seem trivial if it’s not part of your faith tradition, each of us is tempted every day. This makes this story about more than a cheeseburger on a Friday.)
I was so proud of Noah at that moment. Of course, I also felt like a heel. I hugged him and told him that I know that had to be a difficult choice, especially when I was telling him that what we believed to be wrong was an okay choice to make. I told him that I knew it wasn’t fair of me to have done. He comforted me and told me that he knew why I did it. I couldn’t help, however, feeling that it had been a “get thee behind me, Satan” moment and I hadn’t played a part that I was very proud of.
Now, here’s a cool part of the story, however. Once we were done with our meal, our very sweet waitress who had been so helpful to our party of 13 on a busy Friday night, came out with our check. She also had a bag that she handed to Noah which contained a fresh, warm biscuit (she must have noticed it was one of the things he ate from his meal), a container of peanut butter, and a plastic knife.
She looked at him with pride, “It can be hard to do the right thing.” She told him that she had been impressed with the choice he made, and she wanted to make sure he had something to eat later, if he got hungry, since she saw he hadn’t eaten a lot of his meal.
I was thankful for Kathy from Market Street Diner that night. Not that Noah needed a reward for making the right choice, but I was glad that his choice came with a piece of tangible positive reinforcement. For me, it was a reminder those who help us to make the right choice and those who encourage us to make the wrong choice can sometimes come from very surprising places.
—–photo by D Sharon Pruitt (not from the actual restaurant we went to, because it would have seemed pretty inappropriate to take a picture of that cheeseburger with a declaration of, “I’m totally blogging about this.”)