Friday, January 31, 2014

Murderers and Burgers

"Here you go, it's my favorite on the menu.", this tall biker-gang looking guy says when dropping off a burger that I ordered at my table. "Wow!", my eyes glowing as I was expecting a hockey puck patty on a 99 cent bun. "Yep, that's our pulled pork and goat cheese with a chipotle aioli sauce.  Enjoy", he answered back with a calm relaxing smile. "Thank you. Thank you.", I replied with my usual double talk that a few have made fun of, while I look onto the burger and grab the knife and cut it in half.  He comes back refills my water and adds, "and that's not grease on those chips, we use truffle oil."  Again with that fatherly smile.

After a few minutes another man comes out approaches me.  "Hi, how is everything."  Ok.  Now all of the extra attention is getting a bit odd.  Not in a bad way, just enough to where I know I'm the one that's not in on it.  "I'm the executive chef.  Do you know about us and what we are all about."  My responses going through my head were pretty interesting. 'Well, uhhhh. Restaurant?'  Kinda given. But I quieted those down and simply answered, "not really". He politely nodded his head and told me the story...

The place is called "Redemption Foods" a small quaint diner in the Hollywood area. My intimidating server, tall biker guy with the fatherly smile?  A "lifer" from the state pen. All of the workers are. All who served 25 to life.  The restaurant is the later part of a large scale program that starts in the penitentiary. Prisoners who decide to be part of the program are able to get job skill training to work at the business. As they are released the program provides housing and a steady job to allow them to start anew. 

"When [he] went in, there was no internet... No cellphones... Getting out of prison after 40 years, this outside world is completely foreign."  He said with a deep sincerity.  "Our world judges you based on what you did in the past.  But you are not your past, you are who you decide to be today.  If I'm a crack selling maniac, but one day I wake up and say, 'dude!  You're fucked up!  Stop this!' And decide to stop drugs and go get a normal 9-5 job.  Decide to be a productive member of society, no one cares. That 9-5'er wants a drug test... Nope! You did drugs in the past... You are a bad person.  It doesn't matter who I decided to be now, we make the past more relevant.  And we're shocked with statistics about ex-convicts re-return to crime.  Really?  I wanted to give these guys a place to get settled, some place that would accept them for who they are today.  To be a place that gave them a second chance."

He got a call and needed to go back inside, leaving me alone on the porch sitting in what he just told me.  Then, my waiter returns with a slightly defeated look about him.  Kinda a 'well, you know now' look.  Initially, honestly, I had major defenses prop up.  Then I decided to let go of 'his' past and allow him to be who he is today.  "Burger is great Greg!", I bellow out.  He smiles with that same calm fatherly-ness that really captivated me when we first met.  "Good", he says, "let me know if you want anything else."  Waved and headed back inside, smiling.

I thought about it for a while.  One thing I've learned these past few years, learning to let go of the past and embrace the 'today'.  I understand that they've done bad (or even horrible) things in the past; but that's who they 'were'.  Who he decided to be today is someone different, and accepting that decision is what forgiveness is all about.

So next time you meet someone who has a past, please allow yourself to let go of it.  See if they've decided to be somebody new today.  'Forgive and Forget' right?  That's what happiness is truly all about.  


Hope you have a fantastic day!
--Paul Jacob Evans

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