I spend my summer nights working in a restaurant by the beach. Each night I get paid to bring people food and drinks and take care of their needs. It is in some ways similar to education, but mostly, it is a stark change from my typical day in the classroom. Sadly a busy restaurant does not typically bring out the best in the people around me. Tonight however, I found myself looking on in awe of several teenagers with whom I work.
There is a lot said about the generation that is coming through high school now. Most of what I hear is filled with negativity. In the restaurant where I work there are many people working that are a part of that generation. If you believe what many of us “old folks” say, they are lazy, self-centered, and generally clueless about the world. It never ceases to amaze me how often I hear criticism of teenagers, although I suppose it has always been this way.
Tonight, while I was waiting for business to pick up, I saw something that was beautiful, amazing, and truly made me happy. Standing next to the hostess desk in the front of our restaurant was an adult girl. She was different, clearly had some special needs, but she was friendly and inquisitive. She stood there for at least a minute while our staff was busy taking care of people. Then, they each turned to her and she shook their hand. They were talking.
I casually walked by to find out more. These teenage girls were amazing. They were not pretending to be nice to her, they were not annoyed by having to “deal” with her. They were genuinely happy to talk to her, ask her questions about what she was doing, and show her what they were doing.
This didn’t stop at a small talk conversation, instead they embraced having this girl with them and even had her help them with their duties. All the time they were talking with her, making her feel comfortable. After she ate dinner, the young woman returned to help the hostesses and sit with her new friends. She was smiling seemed like she fit right in. I walked over and introduced myself to her. We talked for a short while before I had to get back to work, but I felt lucky to get to meet her.
She spoke slowly, but clearly. She was one of the nicest, happiest people I have met in a long time. After I had to return to my work, I watched as she hugged each of the girls goodbye. I was touched by this moment. Here, in a place that doesn’t always bring out the best in people, I saw one of the most beautiful moments of humanity that I have seen in a long time. Teenagers, the same ones who people call selfish and oblivious to the world, were so naturally good.
Young people will always surprise you when you forget their potential to be incredible. These four teenagers made someone else’s life better, if only for a short time. They did it so effortlessly, without thinking anything of it. I hope to remember this beautiful moment the next time I hear someone criticize the next generation.