Large helpings of happiness served with your lunch

This wasn't what Grandma was expecting when she ate out.

Staring at the menu meant absorbing the idea of food as emotion. "I am gracious," "I am whole," and "I am accepting" all referred to menu items, which was very confusing.

"What does this mean?" Grandma inquired.

"Well, 'I am warm' is miso soup. You know, the soup with soy."

"So why does the soup talk to me? I don't care if the soup feels warm. I'm the one that's cold."

She had a point.

"Look at this," she continued. " 'I am giving.' What kind of a menu says that? Trying to butter me up for a tip is all. Never heard of such a thing."

I pointed out that the Café Gratitude was a thankful place, a California kind of place, where you went to be happy about the food that you were served while in the company of happy people: The restaurant was staffed by smiling young people bristling with dreadlocks and good cheer.

But by now Grandma was indignant. " 'I am alive!' " she said, pointing to the carrot and avocado salad. "Who wants to eat a salad alive?"

Around us swayed lissome young people, the men in long crocheted skirts, tiny African hats perched on their heads.

The women, peering out from beneath blond dreadlocks, embraced each other for long minutes, smiling, laughing. Then they would all change partners and embrace again, everyone staring deeply into one another's eyes.

Grudgingly, Grandma tasted the soup.

"Mmmm," she said. "I am impressed."

By now we were getting into the spirit of the thing. I was eating a small salad with kale and pine nuts, and we giggled as we saw its name, "I am satisfied."

'Well, are you?" Grandma demanded.

"Very," I said.

"Anything here that says 'I am full'? "

We both laughed and signaled for the bill. As we prepared to leave, one of the smiling waiters came over, looked at us long and lovingly, and asked us if we wanted to have a moment of affirmation. Was there anything we wanted?

"Yes," Grandma said, "to leave!" Already restless, she had picked up her walking stick and was pushing past him when he broke out into a long and tender affirmation, citing "all things good" and "blessings bestowed" and the splendor of the universe in granting her long life, a good day, and Godspeed as she went upon her way.

The affirmation lasted for a minute or two, after which he smiled and helped her out the door.

Grandma stood as if listening to distant music, her face tilted into the sun. "He said grace," she said softly. "Imagine that."

Then we quietly left, she to tell her fellow seniors about the restaurant that says grace and the menu that featured the specialty of the day, "I am blessed."

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