Yesterday, faced with the prospect of a tiny Thanksgiving, which I find only reminds me of the former table-mates lost forever, and having the extra excuse of our wedding anniversary, Grace and I decided to take our increasingly otherwise occupied son and have Thanksgiving dinner at the Prime Rib, a ridiculously expensive restaurant. The meal was lovely and low stress for a holiday dinner, a feature especially welcome right now.
The restaurant was filled with family groups without kids, many in gowns and formal wear. Also filling the air was happy banter of the sort that holidays typically inspire. Over to my right, however, sat a well-dressed man in his late 60s or seventies, dining alone. I found myself thinking about him throughout the meal. What a lonely, solitary, depressing way to celebrate Thanksgiving, I thought. If I get to the state where I am so bereft of family and friends that I find myself in a five-star restaurant dining alone on Thanksgiving, just hit me over the head with cinder block. He looked a little like Alan Greenspan, and I still felt terrible for him.
After dinner, and he had left the restaurant, I mentioned all of this to my wife.
“I was thinking the same thing,” she said. “We should have invited him to join us.”
Ugh. I had considered that. But our family gets the opportunity to eat together so seldom, and this was an anniversary celebration too. My son also has a tendency to clam up around strangers, and he seemed relaxed and happy for a change. I had quickly talked myself out of even raising the possibility of inviting a fourth to our Thanksgiving/ 37th Anniversary table.
Yet of course that’s what we should have done, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Maybe the man was having a great time by himself. Maybe we would have embarrassed him. Heck, I don’t know. It’s also possible that he would have jumped at the chance. Who knows? All I do know is that I would have appreciated the offer, and will, unless someone gets behind me with the cinder block before I have the chance. It was still the kind, considerate, compassionate, ethical thing to do.
“Next time, let’s make sure we invite someone like that,” Grace said. I agreed.
11 thoughts on ““Next Time”… Our Thanksgiving Ethics Botch”
Stuck between helping a lonely stranger or disrupting your family on a family holiday? Seems like a problem worthy of Kant. Also Seems like ethical acts can found in both choices.
I travel alone about once a month for work. For dinners alone, I come armed with my Kindle. I personally HATE it when strangers approach me. I spend my whole life surrounded by people — at home, at work — please don’t assume that because I am eating alone that I am lonely.
Perhaps the Holidays change this — but perhaps not. My youngest daughter has some social anxiety issues, I don’t think that I would invite someone over if it meant that she would be uncomfortable.
As a lifelong single person I can quite easily handle dinner out alone – that’s what the droid is for. When feeling lonely I just usually head home and boot up the DVD player until the mood passes.
Next, if given the opportunity, time buy them a drink or dessert or even his meal.
I think you did fine. So many wouldn’t have even noticed.
This guy looked like if we had invited him over, he might have bought OUR meal…
He could have been a foreign diplomat on assignment. Thanksgiving could mean nothing to him whatsoever.
Well, it’s a gamble. Sometimes kindness doesn’t get repaid. Then again, he might have turned out to be a quite interesting guy with some amazing stories.
Man, that IS an expensive restaurant. Yikes.
Your story reminded me of this one: https://impossiblehq.com/an-unexpected-ass-kicking/
Dinner and conversation with friends, certainly. With strangers or acquaintances, lunch and a chat is fine. Breakfast: DO NOT SPEAK TO ME.
In retrospect, you could have asked our waiter what the gentleman was drinking, bought him one, and offered up a 15-foot-away toast, then decide if he would like to join you. I do agree that it might have put a damper on your son’s feast. (That place is ridiculously pricey!) But if the introduction of a stranger at your table tamped down his enthusiasm, he nevertheless would have learned another lesson about kindness.
When I was growing up, my mother routinely cooked for 25-30 people at Thanksgiving; the extended family and all the ‘orphans’ we knew who couldn’t be with family. Christmas was sacrosanct — family only — but Thanksgiving was one of our days of benevolence.