Not So Sunny Sonny
It was a hectic summer day, and I was preparing to go to a special event. My daughter and I were contemplating getting our nails done together, but we just could not work out the logistics, so she went ahead of me to the salon where we usually go. I called to set up a time with my usual technician, only to find out that he was out of town at a funeral, & they were not taking any appointments whatsoever that day, but were only accepting walk-in patrons. So I called my daughter to see how busy they were before proceeding to drive the twenty minutes to the salon. There are nail salons closer to where I live, but when you find a place that gives you the service and treatment that you desire, you will drive a little extra to go there. My daughter said that she got right in, although she elected not to wait on her usual technician, a tiny, petite little bald-headed Vietnamese man named Sonny, to be free. So I decided to go on down there.
When I arrived Sonny was almost done with a customer, so I specified that I would wait on him. I’d had him a couple of times before, and he gives wonderful foot and leg massages, almost as good as my own technician. Plus, he always exhibits a delightful sense of humor, and cuts up with me about everything from Alabama football to the weather. I was stressed from a variety of things, and sat eagerly anticipating his services.
I remember the first time I ever met him. He took one look at the bright red nail polish that I had selected for my toenails and said, “Sonny don’t like red! It make Sonny very ANGRY!” After which he burst out in hysterical laughter at his joke, leaving me to consider his sanity. Even though I had a different technician that I typically set my appointments with, I became well acquainted with Sonny over the three years that I have been going to the salon. Unlike some of the other Vietnamese workers there, his English is very good, and he has a sharp mind and a quick wit. Like me, he does not meet a stranger, and loves to make people laugh. Though he is from an entirely different culture, we are kindred spirits – we both like to serve others and are not afraid of hard work. We both like to try to make others feel better if they are feeling blue. I always spoke to him, or him to me, whenever I went to the salon, and I thought we had a very good rapport established between us.
So I was a bit taken aback when, after he finished with the lady he was working on when I arrived, he came over to me and said, “If you want a good massage today, you need to ask for someone else. My hands hurt.” Of course, due to his unique sense of humor, I thought he was teasing with me, as is his custom. I said, “Sure they do, Sonny! Just for that, I think I am going to make you paint my toes RED!!!” But Sonny did not laugh. Instead, he repeated to me, “No! If you want good massage, get someone else!”
I realize that the technicians rely heavily on tips as a substantial part of their income, so I always tip for good service. So I was nonplussed that he would say this to me. However, in an attempt to honor his request, I told the lady who places people with the technicians that I would like to have a different technician. She asked me why, and not being one to lie, but not thinking it might get Sonny in trouble, I immediately replied, “Because Sonny said his hands are hurting.” What followed is an abrupt exchange in Vietnamese which, although I do not speak the language, I imagine meant something to the effect of, “I cannot believe you did that. Now go do this woman’s pedicure now!!” The reason I think this is that she did not assign me another technician.
As I sat there in the chair, there was a stony silence between me and Sonny. I wondered if he was mad at me. “Great!” I thought. “Just what I need – an angry Vietnamese man coming at me with sharp instruments! Please, Lord, don’t let him hurt me!!” And right after that, he did. He hurt me. It was bad enough that he had to get out antiseptic for the cut, which caused the wound to feel as if it were on fire. At first I wanted to draw back in anger that he would punish me for inadvertently telling on him. But something inside of me refused to believe that the typically sunny Sonny would do that to me, or to anyone else, for that matter. So when he looked up and said, “Sorry”, I told him, “No worries!”
The usually talkative Sonny did not say another word during my pedicure, and the massage was indeed mediocre at best. I ALMOST wanted to complain. But something inside held me in check. My daughter, who usually goes to him, had made a comment to me in the recent past about how she sensed that perhaps he was going through a mid-life crisis or something, as he did not seem like his usual lively self of late. So I bit my tongue while he did my manicure, and sat in disappointed silence. When he was done, he handed me my ticket with a frown on his face, and I returned it with a smile. He shrugged his shoulders and walked over to run the water into the tub of his next client. There were fifteen technicians off work and out of state at the funeral that my technician was attending, so the remaining seven technicians were working non-stop, with zero breaks.
So I sat there, contemplating it all, waiting on my nails to dry. Suddenly, Sonny jumped up from the lady he’d just started working on, and appeared above me. Looking down with a sheepish look, he said to me, “I’m sorry about earlier. It’s just that my hands, they hurt so bad today.” I glanced up at him, and said, “That’s okay, Sonny. It’ll be all right.” He turned to go back to the next customer, but abruptly did an about face and gave me a tentative hug. Shocked by this turn of events, I arose, and hugged him in return.
And then it came out – his story. The one he was burdened with. The one he wanted to tell. The one that he wanted me – or someone – to understand. He told me he was very sorry for his bad mood, and the way he had acted earlier. “You know me,” he said, “always cutting up. But I just feel so bad. I hurt so much. I need rotator cuff surgery. And surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. And my finger – it is REALLY BAD today!” At that he held up a very swollen, very crooked finger. “See,” he exclaimed, “how different it look from the other ones!” He held up the same finger of the opposite hand for a side by side comparison. I could see via my peripheral vision the lady he’d left, shifting in her seat, as if for attention. Yet Sonny and I did not break eye contact.
I asked him about his options. “I have insurance, but I cannot take off work. I work six days a week, twelve hours per day. This is my only income. I cannot do without it. The doctor said no work for SIX WEEKS! But the medicine is no longer working. It just hurts so bad!!” My eyes filled with tears as I reached out and hugged him. He clung to me so tightly as I told him he needed to find a way to take off and get the necessary treatments. “I try. Maybe this winter, when business is slower, I can take off,” he said wistfully. Sorrowfully, he turned to go, but I offered him another hug. “I am so very sorry, Sonny. I will be praying that you find the relief that you need.” He smiled, this time a genuine smile, and said to me, “Thank you so much, Ms. Lou. I really appreciate it! I am just sorry I being so mean to everyone lately. I very grouchy with my wife this morning, too!” I gently chastised him: “Now, Sonny, you KNOW you do not need to be cranky with her, even though you are feeling bad, don’t you?” He quickly agreed with me. I glanced over at his other customer, who, witnessing the exchange taking place between us, had decided to stifle her impatience. “I know, I know,” he said. “Well, good, then. Go home and apologize to her. And make time for your surgeries!” He thanked me profusely as I sat there, teary eyed in the middle of the nail salon. I sat back down, and quietly waited on my nails to dry the rest of the way.
As I checked out, the lady asked if everything was okay. “It was great,” I assured her. “Please don’t mind Sonny. He’s having a bad day. He isn’t usually like this,” she told me. “I know. I know he’s not.”
I left there thinking about how unfair life can be sometimes. Here is a man who left his birth country to make a better life for his family. He works SEVENTY-TWO hours a week, but cannot afford to take off of work in order to get necessary medical care due to work related ailments. Feeling a bit blue about my encounter, I went home to finish getting ready for the event I was to attend, lavishly putting moisturizing lotion on my neck, chest, elbows and knees. That evening, I noticed a rash beginning in the areas where I’d applied the lotion. I was most dismayed, as I was leaving very early the next morning for a long awaited and eagerly anticipated trip to the beach with my boy friend and his kids. “How can this possibly be happening,” I wondered. As we set out on our journey the next day, the itching was so intense that we had to stop and get me some Benadryl. Always one to enjoy the scenery during a trip, and never wanting to miss out on a moment when traveling to a place I’ve never been, I nonetheless had to periodically take the caplets all along our route. They would knock me out, and I would sleep. That night, I was in all out misery! My first night at the beach I was quiet and withdrawn, and at times down right irritable. How very ironic! I reminded myself that, even though I felt horrible, I should try to keep myself in check and not take it out on my companions. They took me to an Urgent Care clinic the next morning, and thankfully the shot in the rear end that they gave me, combined with topical cream and some anti-itch medication that did not knock me out helped tremendously. Still, it took a couple of days for me to start feeling better, and even then, I was not myself due to the steroids that had been prescribed. Though I kept telling my boy friend to please overlook me, that I could not help but feel cranky, I know that I must have been getting on his nerves. There were moments of feeling good, followed by moments of not feeling so good.
Fortunately, just as I had done a couple of days previously with Sonny, my boy friend made allowances for my misfortunes. At one point, I lamented to him about how I felt that God must be mad at me. I think I may have even wondered why God must hate me. Such are the thoughts that went through my mind as I felt betrayed at having finally gotten a trip to one of my favorite places – the beach – but not being able to fully enjoy it. Even as the words tumbled out of my mouth, I felt selfish. But such is humanity, and we all feel that way at times, I suppose. Nonetheless, every day I prayed for forgiveness, trying to be grateful that I was able to take off of work and go to the beach at all.
At some point, I remembered my exchange with Sonny, and that is when I felt really ashamed and embarrassed. My allergic reaction, while extremely uncomfortable and very inconvenient, was merely that – an inconvenience. I decided that I needed to take my own advice – which is sometimes easier said than done – and remember that it is not right to take out one’s frustrations on those around you, and especially not on those that you love.
As I write these words I am very thankful, and grateful for many things:
*For the opportunity to offer some small encouragement to Sonny, and for the chance to pray for him.
* For a boy friend and his kids who were kind and patient with me when I was at my worst.
* For a God that is equally kind and patient with us, though we get mad at Him, doubt Him, and take out our frustrations out on Him when we feel our worst.
* For Life Lessons found in every day happenings.
* And most especially, for love, kindness, affection and caring that we are able to bestow upon others, and, if we will but open ourselves up, that we are also able to accept when we need it the most.
If you, reading these words, are a person of Faith, I invite you to join me in praying for Sonny, that he may get healing. Pray for my friend who, though I did not include him in this writing (that is a story for another day), who, that same weekend, came out to do a favor for me, though he is in the throes of chemotherapy to combat cancer. Please pray for strength for him as he fights the battle of his life, and that God will honor his servant’s heart in the midst of his own personal suffering. And if you have a little time left over, say a prayer for me, too, that I may always remember to count my blessings ahead of my misfortunes.
Here’s to the personal truth that hit home with me due to the “not so sunny Sonny.” May the sun shine brightly through him again very soon!!!