It's early evening and I'm standing alone on a balcony inside the atrium of the Time Warner Center. My book signing is going to start in a few minutes. To say I have butterflies in my stomach is putting it mildly. I need time to compose myself. I've never been so excited and scared in all my life.
As I look at Columbus Circle through one of the largest glass walls in the world, my thoughts drift back to a time when my godfather and I were in a museum looking at a medieval tapestry. While the rest of the onlookers gawked at the front of the tapestry, my godfather, a Catholic priest, intently studied the back. Puzzled, I asked what he was doing.
"What do you see here?" my godfather asked me.
I looked. The back of the tapestry was ugly. The texture, unlike the ancient drapery's smooth front, was rough and frayed. The colors were mottled and muted. There was much darkness.
"A mess," I replied.
"Yes," my godfather replied, smiling. "I like looking at the back of the tapestry because it's a lot like real life. A mess. It makes no sense. There seems to be no order or beauty."
Then, his arms on my shoulders, my godfather moved me to the front of the tapestry. Undimmed by the centuries, it was still gorgeous.
"But every once in a while," my godfather said, "God gives you a glimpse of the other side and it all begins to make sense."
I said nothing. I knew my godfather was trying to tell me something, but I was too young to understand.
"No one is unimportant," he continued. "We all play a part in designing life's tapestry. You never know what your effect on people is going to be. When you think the world is ugly, makes no sense, remember there is always another side. If you're lucky God will grant you a peek."
Twenty-five years later, as I look at the panorama of glass, concrete, and flesh that is New York City, I somehow will my nerves to calm. I take a deep breath and walk inside the bookstore. There are news crews and cameras waiting. The seating area is full. After a few minutes waiting in a back room I walk out to the podium and begin discussing my book. I start thanking everyone who made Waiter Rant possible. I thank my parents and family. I thank my editor, publisher, agent, and friends. I thank all the readers, fellow servers, and fans who made time to come and see me.
But when I thank my godfather, who's been dead for several years, I feel my composure start slipping away. Tears sting my eyes.
"Whoa!" I say, reigning in my emotions. "Where did that come from?"
Somehow I collect myself and manage to thank my girlfriend and tell her I love her without crying like a baby. Then, grateful for the distraction, I open my book and start reading a few passages.
As I read about bad tippers sucking in bed and the hell that is a restaurant on Mother's Day, I suddenly understand where the emotion about my godfather is coming from. Everyone is in this room because of something I wrote. And what I wrote was shaped by everything that happened to me. All the yearning and loss I've felt, the rough edges I've chafed people with, the smooth surfaces that brought a few people happiness, come together in a moment of clarity. I'm getting one of those glimpses my godfather was talking about. I'm getting a peek. For a moment it all makes sense. I wonder if my parents got that glimpse when they renewed their wedding vows on their 40th anniversary. I wonder if my brother got that glimpse when he held his newborn son for the first time. I hope so.
Life isn't always beautiful. There often isn't time for the sweet reflections and happy thoughts like I'm writing about now. We don't always get a peek. Very often, nothing makes sense. But, when we're in those darker places, it's good to look back on those little "glimpses" we've gotten of the big picture. That's all it takes to sustain hope.
Eventually the night winds down. I have a cramp in my hand from scribbling my name plus "The Waiter" in every book. I was touched by the kind words people said to me and found myself wishing I could've spent more time with them. Nobody was unimportant. Everyone played a part. My family and friends decide to go upstairs and grab some drinks and some food. As my girlfriend and I ride up the escalator, we look though the atrium's great window. Tonight New York City is a tapestry, too ? woven from the sparkle and shadow of eight million lives. I know I'm seeing the curtain pulled back for a moment. I know this view won't last long. But no matter what happens to me, I'll look back on this night with happiness as long as I live.