A friend and I were in a café eating Tater-Tots (really). Cold Tater-Tots actually. The food's not great but the people who work there are, so we go often. And sit at the same table.
One day a guy who looked like an acquaintance of mine walked in. And sat nearby. I thought it might even be the guy I sort of knew. So I was staring. But he looked bad, not enough like himself for me to be sure.
He spoke to me, because it was the guy. And we bantered back and forth a minute. He told us that it was his birthday and he was treating himself to a birthday breakfast.
We wished him a "happy birthday" and went back to our Tater-Tots and conversation.
I thought about asking the acquaintance to join us but when I looked over to do it he had his eyes closed in what looked like deep prayer, so I left him alone.
Later in the day I went on his Facebook page to say that I'd wished I'd asked him to join us. And there I saw the notice that his son had died, the day before. Unexpectedly. At age 23.
And I'd missed the chance to sit with a grieving father who ate alone on his birthday, the day after his namesake died.
And that's not okay.
New policy: err on the side of asking someone to join me. And let them, not me, decide.
May we never eat alone when we don't want to.