If we had enjoyed a great meal, we wouldn’t have met Kyle.
For some time, my husband and I have heard of this upscale restaurant situated on the banks of the Mississippi. It sounded oh, so romantic and picturesque. But we heard that recent flooding along the Mississippi had often compromised the business and the owner had threatened that if he was flooded out one more time, he would close the doors for good. If we were going to patronize the Big Muddy, as it is called, we’d best do it before the next big rain.
One Monday evening, my husband’s day off, we decided to grab the moment and drive the 35 miles to Burlington, Iowa to enjoy a quiet dinner together. The view was not disappointing but the service and the food left much to be desired. It wasn’t bad but the prices were high for what we got, both in amount and quality. It isn’t often that I leave a restaurant less than pleasantly full. The meal left me wanting more. I thought about my favorite ice cream store in Burlington and how that might fill the empty spot. No, I debated, Jack is diabetic and I had just renewed my commitment that morning to be more careful about my food intake. But I so wanted something that tasted good!
Finally I blurted out that I wanted ice cream. It didn’t take much convincing. Soon we sat in a corner of Grandpa’s Homemade Ice Cream, sharing bites of coffee and raspberry ice cream and enjoying the photography on the wall.
A young man and an older woman sat at a table nearby. The young man looked at us. “I like peanut butter pie,” he announced. I smiled at him and took another bite.
“What’s that bell?” he asked, still looking at me. I ignored him.
“I like birthday cake ice cream,” he said.
Interruptions by other customers was not in my plan for a romantic evening. Then it dawned on me. The young man, shall we say, evidently didn’t have the same intellectual gifts the rest of us have. Some folks would have found him annoying. I was willing to just accept that this was who he was and leave him to his companion to manage.
“What’s that bell?” he asked a second time.
Others probably ignore him too, the thought entered my brain. You are called to be different. The text of my husband’s sermon, “be holy as I am holy,” followed that thought. Holy means set apart – or yes, different. In a flash, I realized I needed to treat this person differently than others treated him and the same as I would anyone else.
So I explained to the young man with thick glasses that the bell was someone pulling up to the drive through window. I used simpler language, yet worked at not sounding like I was talking to a child. I made eye contact.
As we got up to go, he spoke to me again. “You don’t see well, do you?”
“No I don’t.”
“You like art.”
“Yes I do.”
“Have you tried the peanut butter pie?”
I moved closer to their table and spent the next five minutes chatting with him and his mother, about the changes in their town, about ice cream, peanut butter and my daughter. Then we left.
As we made our way to our car, a man asked my husband for directions to a nearby town. That gave the young man inside time to run outside and poke on my car window. I rolled down the window and he just stood there.
“Can I help you?”
“Did you need something?”
“No.” Pause. “I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“Oh, thank you.” He didn’t move. I searched for what to say. “My name is Karen.”
He stuck out a sticky hand. “My name is Kyle.”
“Good-bye, Kyle. I’m glad I got to meet you.”
“I am too.” Another pause. He just stood, staring at me. “I think you’re pretty.”
I couldn’t help myself. I smiled big and blinked hard. I could feel Jack sitting behind me, smiling too. “Thank you Kyle. See you later.”
If our meal at The Big Muddy had been lavish and outstanding, we wouldn’t have wanted ice cream. If we hadn’t dallied on the Mississippi shoreline taking pictures, we would have missed Kyle and his mother. If that man hadn’t stopped to ask Jack directions, we would have driven away before Kyle could say goodbye and tell someone who paid attention to him that she was pretty. I’m convinced that God wanted me to meet Kyle and that Kyle needed someone to treat him – not special – but like anyone else. Kyle needed a few moments of normalcy.
I’m not sure who got the greater blessing. It was probably me.
It was such a little thing to stop for Kyle, to treat him as an equal human being, designed and loved by God. And I almost missed it. As my husband said later, there’s something whimsical and beautiful about the candor and innocence of people like Kyle. The guard, the mask is gone. Yes, they can be annoying and irritating – if we let them. But if we stop to see the beauty, the lack of pretense, the good, we go away blessed. We leave, wondering if perhaps the Kyles of this world are God’s special people and the rest of us are lacking something worth having.
So, next time you’re in Burlington, Iowa, stop by Grandpa’s Homemade Ice Cream for the best raspberry ice cream you ever had. And if you see Kyle, tell him Karen says hello.