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The Christmas Eve Tahini Sauce Incident

7 Jan

This wasn’t the first Christmas that I’ve spent away from family. One year I was snowed in by a freak blizzard in Seattle and couldn’t get a flight home till late Christmas day. And I spent my first Christmas on the East Coast with my then-boyfriend’s family in Maryland. This was my first year since that Maryland Christmas that I didn’t travel to Reno to see my parents or to Philadelphia to see my family there. I thought I might spend the holiday with a boyfriend, but I had decided to end things the week before.

I had to work late on Christmas Eve, but I found a Lutheran church that had a late candlelight service at 10pm. It’s one of my favorite traditions, so I thought I’d put on my brand new Stitch Fix dress and treat myself.

After work, I had some time to kill before the service, so I went to the only open bookstore I could find and bought myself a new book and a nice new shoulder bag to carry it in. I walked the 30 blocks from Union Square to where the church was located. New York City has been so warm this winter; I used the walk to enjoy the weather and clear my mind.

I made it up to the Hell’s Kitchen area where the church was and thought, “What a nice evening I’m having!” Then, I decided to treat myself further. To a falafel sandwich.

I walked into a small store that had a wide range of specialty falafels. It was full of Israeli people, and I stuck out. Everyone was being exceptionally kind to me, as it was Christmas Eve, and I was clearly alone. I ordered my sandwich, and an older man wearing a yarmulke smiled at me and promised, “This will be the best falafel you ever have!”

The giant sandwich barely fit in my hands as I carried it to the other side of the store where a variety of sauces were. I picked up the tahini sauce to put it on my sandwich, but nothing came out. I gave it one quick shake, and the lid of the bottle came off and the entire bottle of Tahini sauce drenched my sandwich, my hands, my jacket, my brand new dress, my boots. I stand there frozen, holding the empty bottle and watching the sauce drip from my sandwich to the floor. I lift my gaze to look around the tiny shop, unsure what to do.

I was alone on Christmas Eve. No family. No boyfriend. My brand new dress was ruined. I was hungry. My sandwich was ruined. I had told myself all day that I was okay with it all, but I wasn’t, and it took that tahini sauce to make me feel it. But I held it together. I wanted to cry, but I swallowed it down. Until all the patrons of the little falafel shop swarmed me.

The guys who were working there took my ruined sandwich and started making me a new one. The old man who had promised me a magical falafel experience asked me if I was okay. A couple with a baby stroller started handing me a bunch of baby wipes to clean myself. All these strangers huddled around me and tried to make sure I was okay. And that’s what made me cry. Embarrassing tears falling out on their own. I had tried so hard to make the best of things, and it was as if the universe had replied, “Nope. Not today.”

I cleaned myself up as best I could and figured I couldn’t go to a new church covered in Tahini sauce stains. So I gathered my things and rushed out the door as someone yelled behind me, “Miss, you forgot your sandwich!” I couldn’t face them. I was humiliated by my tears and by my inadvertent clumsiness.

I’ve recounted this story a dozen times to my friends and family, often to a reaction of laughing and joking. Christmas didn’t turn out so bad as I spent it with friends. I look back on that night in that falafel shop as an important reminder. Those strangers didn’t have to rally around me like they did. They didn’t have to worry about me and try to make it right. I was embarrassed, but I wish I had the courage to stay and to say thank you. New York can seem like a cold and distant place, and the world at large as hateful things happening all the time.

But there are two ways of looking at my Christmas Eve falafel incident. One: the universe is cruel and unforgiving. Or two: there is an inherent goodness in people, and even though I started the evening feeling alone, I wasn’t. It just took a bottle of tahini sauce to see that even strangers can be there.

I don’t even remember exactly where the shop was, and I have no way of tracking down those strangers, but I am so grateful that they were there that night and that they were kind to me. As I rode the subway home and thought about all that had happened, it was the first time in the whole day that I honestly felt like I was okay and that things would be fine.

Thank you strangers. Thank you so much for that.

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