Another routine is the aftermath of the meal. Looking down at the table I can see the typical crumpled napkins that accompany me everywhere. The balled up wrapping from a plastic straw sits forlornly near the cup (unsweetened ice tea, if you please). The table laminate and food wrappers are bespeckled with a dusting of crumbs. This detritus is the typical fallout from when I eat no matter how much I strive to be careful. It is a minor miracle when I can get through a meal without something landing on my shirt or pants.
But I digress. It is the crumbs that are the crux of the matter here.
I sit back in my chair to do some people watching while settling the meal. Places like this are interesting clinical settings if human behavior holds any fascination for the mind. Open air laboratories without quiet rooms or one way mirrors. Given the amount of time spent in such places I have observed that almost no one finishes a meal without some amount of collateral fallout. Food crumbs, spilled drinks, trash. It's all there. I have also observed that a high percentage of folks (anecdotally, you understand) do not seem to notice the leavings.
This isn't to say that everyone is a slob. I have never seen an absolute mess left for the staff to clean up. Taking trays to the drop off receptacles is a macro task that most everyone seems to perform. This is good thing, as I think most folks have good intentions.
But the small things often go unnoticed or uncared for. The errant food wrapper. Sauce smears. Crumbs and leavings dotting the tabletops and seats. These get left behind as patrons stand, take a slurp from the bottom of the cup, and head out the door in pursuit of other matters. For the longest time, I too followed this pattern. After all, we are beings of our own agendas with a certain benign inattention to minor consequences of the actions we most often execute without malice.
I formerly paid no heed to the crumbs I left behind. This state of affairs persisted until one day I found myself at the end of a meal, sweeping those crumbs off the table and into the napkin I was poised to discard. It hit me that I had been doing that for some time without realizing it. I was cleaning a table that was not mine. In that moment I was channeling the habits of my mother.
Tidying up after a meal in a restaurant, or most any meal for that matter, was a habit my mother had indulged for years. I saw it growing up without thinking it anything remarkable. In the self-absorption of my youth I never thought to ask her why she did it. Years later, I forget exactly when, it was my dad who asked her one night "What do you do that for?" Her reply was something to the effect that her mama raised her that way and she did not want to leave a mess behind for others.
Little did I know, but the seed was planted. It sprouted decades later.
In the course of my evolution from child to youth to man that little life lesson did take hold in me. The day I realized I was sweeping up crumbs and wiping off my table was the day I realized something else about my mother's habit. Pieced together with the ways she conducted her daily life it became clear to me there was another lesson she taught me without telling me. The person who cleans up the table you just used may do that as part of the job description, but that doesn't mean you should so careless in your actions that you create more work for them.
It was time to go. Meal was done. Clock was ticking. I swept the crumbs before me into a napkin and balled the napkin up in the leftover wrapper. All that was for the trash as I headed out the door. I thought about the simple lesson of being mindful of those who come after you, thankful for the things I learned from my Mama.