03/14/2013 05:11 pm ET Updated May 14, 2013

Fish Fries: A Wake-up Reminder

This being the Lenten season, many Roman Catholic parishes have Friday evening fish fries. They are social events open to the public. For years, members of my family have gone to one of these dinners each Friday during Lent, changing churches each week. Occasionally, I tag along.

Last Friday we went to one of our favorite ones -- different kinds of fish are available, and there is always a variety of side dishes. This is a particularly popular fish fry, so we always get there as early as possible. The dinner officially starts at 5 p.m. and continues for about three hours. We usually get there about 5:15 p.m.

When we pulled into the church's parking lot there were several vacant places, so we assumed we were ahead of the crowd and that the line would be short. When we got inside and to the gymnasium, with ample room for large crowds to sit and eat, we were pleased to notice that there were many vacant tables. Yes, we had beaten the crown.

But wait a minute! Although the line of people to the food was relatively short, it was barely moving, and behind us the line was growing longer by the minute. As we got closer to the food we could see what the problem was. At the head of the food table, one person not only had the job of taking the different colored tickets indicating what kind of fish you had ordered and whether it was fried or baked, she also was the one who had the job of putting the fish on your plate. No wonder the line was moving so slowly.

But when we got a good look at that person, we realized what the problem really was. She was a very elderly woman with bright-red hair, the white roots showing for at least an inch. Why in the world did they have a silly old woman like this in such a strategic position, holding up the entire line? She probably has been helping for so many years she just assumes she is entitled to this place at the head of the food table. That's the way with old people, isn't it: They just don't know when to step aside and let some younger people do the job. Oh well!

We continued to work our way slowly toward the food table, grumbling among ourselves about how we would run things if we were in charge. Finally, we got to the food. How wrong could we have been? It was not the "silly old woman" who was holding things up; she was as quick and efficient as anyone could have been. Yes, she probably had been doing the job for many years, and still doing it quite well!

So what was the holdup? It was the third person serving the food -- a young man dishing up the tater tots. He was out of his element. I'm sure he meant well, but he just couldn't do it!

What did I learn, or was reminded of, from this experience? Three things:

  1. As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. Many times we are too quick to judge people by what they look like, especially in this day and age of tattoos, body piercing, and weird dress; currently these practices are very prevalent with a cross section of our population. How a person looks doesn't necessarily tell us who the person really is and what his or her talents and abilities are. In this particular situation, I was especially guilty of a flagrant injustice; I am probably as old as the lady taking the tickets and serving the fish. Definitely "My bad!"
  2. Don't judge a situation until you have all the facts. We clearly made wrong assumptions until we got to the head of the line and could really see what the situation was. Too many times we are guilty of making snap decisions about things, only to learn later that we were wrong. Lives can be adversely affected by doing this. Many times the reputations of a person, an athletic team, or class of people are severely damaged by wrong information being made public until the real facts of the situation come to the fore. We need to take the time to gather the needed information so we are able to make informed decisions.
  3. Hey! Don't mark older people off your list so quickly. Older people may just be a lot more talented than is generally assumed. In my opinion, America has a great store of gifted and talented older people who have been put out to pasture too early. It is true that many of us older people do not have the advanced knowledge in math and science that most younger people have, and we certainly are not as likely to carry laptops when traveling or to work at Starbucks instead of at a desk at home or in an office, nor are we likely to carry the most up-to-date cell phones and whatever the latest electronic piece of equipment may be. But we have a certain understanding of life that is not learned in the classroom -- a knowledge of things that is absorbed from living and having many years of varied experiences. One cannot help noting the age of the newly elected Pope; I suspect his age proved to be an asset in selecting him for this position.
Yes, last Friday's fish fry was more than a social outing; it was a wake-up reminder of some really important and down-to-earth things about life.