By Micaela Bensko
The waiter handed me a note. He said it was from the lady who had sat in the booth behind us. My mother looked at me quizzically.The girls were snuggling close to us in the booth knowing that this particular day was different. I had picked them up early from school. The news about the shooting at the Elementary School in Connecticut had shaken me to my parental core and I just needed my children next to me. To soak in the smell of their hair and wipe the crusted milk from the corner of their mouths.
Lester Holt broke through normal programming with the tragedy. I watched, stunned. Gathering the bits of information, as though information would make it less real. Twenty children dead. Mostly kindergarten students.
Mom and I sat with my children at California Pizza Kitchen. To get away from their elementary school and from the news. Then it hit me. Between the Garlic Focaccia and the Tomato Basil Spaghettini. That innocence was lost. My heart heaved into my napkin. The lady behind me must have seen my shoulders throbbing, my mother's eyes tearing, my children wondering. So she wrote that note. It said that life's burdens will be lifted. That she saw I must be troubled and wanted me to know that someone cared. She must not have seen the news. Or she would have known there was no room in the world today for anyone else's grief but the families from that school. It's the holidays. Everyone's out and running errands listening to Christmas music and having lunch at restaurants. Like us. Only we weren't running errands. We were running away. From the reality of someone else's loss.
Our bill came. It was paid. By the lady sitting behind us. Who wrote the note. It must have been a forty dollar bill. She mistook my tears for my own. That I was crying due to my own misfortune. But she was gone and I couldn't correct her kindness.
There was a gift in that moment though. She had no idea why I was sad. Why my mother looked at me that way. But she cared enough to extend a loving gesture to a stranger in another booth.
I will be donating the amount of what would have been our bill, to a fund for the families in Connecticut. Thank you to the lady who sat behind us and wrote me that note and didn't wish to be known. In giving to my family today, you will be giving to the children who aren't able to sit with their parents who are sad. I will tuck my children in tonight with an extra hug, inhale the smell of their freshly washed hair and kiss their cheeks. I will whisper I love them with all of my heart and love them so much it will hurt. There are no words anyone can conjure to even begin to make sense of what happened today. But one small act of kindness gave me hope that even in the darkest hours, there is good in this world. In strangers among us, on a day that's particularly different, in the booth behind you with a lady who handed a waiter a note because she cared.
Micaela Bensko is the Vice President of RAW  (Rebuilding America's Warriors) a non-profit organization formerly known as the Iraq Star Foundation, which helps fund reconstructive surgery for wounded veterans. Bensko also maintains the photography blog Bensko: Beyond the Lens.