My lovely bride and I enjoyed an elegant dinner at the Four Seasons Restaurant on Park Avenue last Wednesday. Since it was our first trip to the Big Apple, I insisted that a stop at this iconic eatery was a must. It didn't disappoint: the decor was impeccable, the food was exquisite, the service was astounding, and the bill was devastating. I love New York.
Mrs. Marciniak, ever the celebrity scout, scanned the dimly lit "Pool Room" like a falcon scanning for field mice. Dr. Laura was eating across the room with friends (at least I think she was eating; somewhere during her seemingly endless conversation I assume she took nourishment); otherwise the room was occupied by politicians and Manhattan movers and shakers...and us. Ma and Pa Kettle go to New York.
We probably looked like a couple of hoot owls as we looked dreamily on the scene. There we were, on the legendary Park Avenue in the City that Never Sleeps, in one of it's most incredible restaurants, hoping not to spill something and reveal the fact that we were not really socialites but rather a middle class couple with nine kids from Buffalo. It worked. Nothing spilled. We never asked for ketchup. And nothing we ordered came "hot, medium, or mild." High livin'.
As we dined on seafood civiche, prosciutto with asparagus, and filet of bison with foie gras and black truffle sauce, we luxuriously sipped Mersault white burgundy (2005: a fine year for French wines, I learned approximately one hour prior to ordering in the handy guide located on the end table in my hotel room). It was, in a word, yummy. The hushed conversations, muted lighting, bubbling pool, and pretentious waiters darting about making sure everything was as it should be all contributed to an almost magical experience.
As she does in most places we go, Mrs. Marciniak finds it supremely necessary to tell everyone that we have nine children. Paul, our German-accented waiter, was no exception and was soon aware of our history down to the last time I got my hair cut. He politely informed us that his brother-in-law lived in Williamsville, a suburban outpost of the fair city of Buffalo. And yes, we asked for his brother-in-law's name. No, we didn't know him. Oh well. No bother; it's still a small world. He smiled and ran.
Dessert was an experience: we each ordered some gourmet-type thing that came with a scoop of ice cream the size of a marble, and thank God since I was already thinking about loosening my belt a notch or two. Then Paul brought us a complimentary dessert. Well, gosh, we had to eat it; I mean, he gave it to us for free for cryin' out loud. Another gastronomical triumph. Then the unexpected happened: Paul and one of his fellow servers approached the table with what seemed at once silly, whimsical and delightful: a plate with the biggest puff of pink cotton candy I had ever seen, dotted with lavender rock candies and topped with a single candle. They wished us a happy anniversary and invited us to blow out the candle before the wisps of spun sugar lit up like a roman candle; we did so and gushed our thanks at this fun little gesture of celebration.
It seemed out of place, a plate of cotton candy in a restaurant famed for sophistication and panache, and yet it fit our experience like a glove. We were tickled.
The Four Seasons understood something that we should all remember every now and again: when we begin to take life a little too seriously, we just have to lighten up. This has been a message God has been reinforcing in my life as of late, and that plate of cotton candy drove it home nicely. We can take ourselves, our problems, our struggles so to heart that we become dry and lifeless. We can become self-righteous and judgmental, and appear cold and aloof. We see it all around us and even within our own hearts. It's hard to avoid. But every once in a while God sends us a plate of cotton candy dotted with lavender sugar...in the joy of our children and grandchildren, the beauty of community, the wonder of friendship, and the delight of new experiences with the ones we love. Life is a gift to be savored and appreciated, with open eyes and open hearts.
At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven. " Matthew 18:1-4
Sometimes you just have to have a big ol' plate of cotton candy.