Some people travel to India and lay at the feet of saints to learn about life. Some find it while sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings. Some go to workshops and read books. I, on the other hand, have taken the advice of one of my college writing professors – In order to learn, you actually have to live.
I don’t know, however, that she envisioned where I learned my latest life lesson – Freebirds World Burrito.
Freebirds is like the build-your-own-burrito chain of Austin. Like the burrito-istas behind the counter, the patrons are totally eclectic – every social group is equally represented in Freebirds.
Sitting across from us while JP and I were enjoying our shared burrito and chips (not quite as good as the tostada chips at El Chile, but still pretty freakin’ good…but I digress), was a young couple that I can best describe as resembling the couples I would see sitting in my waiting room when I was practicing criminal defense. Harsh, maybe. But visually accurate, absolutely.
Corn rows. Low slung jeans. Lots of large, bright jewelry. A small baby in a carrier that had seen better days.
A few minutes later I heard a cry, there was another baby in a very new looking carrier sitting alone on the table next to the young couple. I looked around the restaurant trying to identify the parents of this visibly upset little guy. The young couple also started looking around, and the young girl got up and went over to rock the baby’s carrier…still anxiously looking around the restaurant for some indication that parents were in the line, or at least in the restaurant.
Then, without even looking back at the baby, this tall woman in line, dressed in expensive Lululemon yoga clothes and Aasics running shoes, reached back absent-mindedly and rocked the baby carrier on the table…never noticing that it was already being rocked by the concerned young girl.
The young girl looked momentarily relieved and went back to her own table, baby, and baby’s father. But the lonely baby on the table started crying again, and even though they picked up their own child and headed for the door, the young couple…the one I had visually, and yes mentally, labeled as past or potential criminal defendants…kept looking back to make sure the baby’s mom and dad (who popped up out of nowhere looking like he too just stepped out of a gym) were actually going to comfort the baby.
The young couple even stood outside the restaurant, looking through the glass, waiting until the lonely baby’s parents sat down with him at the table. And then they finally left.
I never felt judgmental when I first saw the young couple, that kind of judgment that sits like a lump in your chest and on your forehead. I have had so many clients who looked like them, I just lumped them in that pile and went about my merry way. Which, now that I look at it, is a form of judgment. It’s putting people in a box without knowing anything about them.
And boy was I wrong – the couple that looked “stepping out of the suburbs” couple left their infant crying in a carrier by itself in the middle of a busy restaurant without even looking back long enough to notice that another girl was trying to calm it down. The couple that I imagined sitting outside a courthouse waiting for an arraignment for one or both of them, cared enough to pause their evening to make sure another couple’s baby wasn’t going to be left alone.
Life lessons, the ones that really make every part of you wake up and take notice, clearly can be found in all places…