In my high school days, I waited tables for spending money. One Sunday, a group of ten middle-aged and older men and women came in from their church service. They were all dressed for church—the men in coats and ties, the women in dresses. They had been pleasant and polite, right up until they threw me a curve ball.
Their table was along a wall at the back of the restaurant, so four had their backs to the wall, four were facing the wall, and two were at either end of the table. As usual for a Sunday lunch, the restaurant was packed. When I brought their food, I started with those on the outside and ended with those against the wall. They were not right up on the wall, so there was enough room for me to squeeze behind them to place their meals before them.
As I was setting down the last of the plates, they were deciding who would say the blessing. “So who will say grace, today?” A couple of the men offered to speak, but then the apparent matriarch of the group looked directly at me, catching my eye, and said, “Why don’t you say it for us?”
I had only barely heard what the short discussion was about, as I was placing the last plates and getting ready to leave the table. But when the request clicked in my mind, time slowed down. Every head at the table turned to look at me, and one of the men at the end of the table said, “Yes, that would be nice.”
I was still behind four of the group, between them and the wall. At least one of them would have to shift forward a bit for me to squeeze back out, but no one moved. I was literally trapped. It felt like a full minute passed as I stood there like a deer caught in headlights, and then they all bowed their heads for the prayer.
I’d never been one to say blessing even at my own house. My father or grandfather always did that honor. And here I was just their waiter. For a moment, while their heads were bowed and they were folding their hands in front of them, I thought maybe I could jump out from behind them and slink away. But the whole area was
too crowded for any kind of quick stealth.
It felt like another minute passed, and then the matriarch lifted her head just enough to look up at me again, obviously prompting me to start the blessing.
“Um, . . . God is great, God is good, let us thank in for this food. . .” It was the only thing that came to mind right then.
When I reached the end, they all repeated, “Amen,” and lifted their heads. “That was very nice,” the matriarch said. Then those blocking my escape shifted to let me out, and I left the table as quickly as I could without bolting.
A waitress and the hostess were standing near the kitchen door staring at me. “What did you just do?” the hostess asked.
Red faced, I explained the situation. They both laughed heartily, and I asked the waitress to take over that table for the rest of lunch.