Darin's Point of No Return

It’s been said that the true key to enjoying one’s life is to embrace “the little things.”

Now, when I say, “It’s been said,” that could mean that it is a generational script of advice that’s been handed down for centuries, or something my father once said while trying to justify his third peanut butter-and-banana sandwich of the day. It could also be something I read on a bathroom stall while I was a somewhat captive audience to the scribes who share their infinite wisdom in such a medium.

Regardless, when I hear something that hits home, I tend to just embrace it. Wisdom can be found in many places, right?

And I do accept this particular axiom. Yes, we’ve always been told that the key to happiness is the Rockwellian imagery of the white picket fence and adoring family, but we all know people who appear to have this “model life” and are absolutely miserable. Conversely, we probably also know people who seem to be struggling to make ends meet consistently, but seem to be living their very best lives. Why? Alcohol. Clear and simple.

I kid. I kid.

To me, as a barely-functioning adult, it means that some people are able to find pleasure in the things around them, and others cannot. Identifying what brings you joy can be a learning experience on its own — embracing that joy can potentially lead to finding more happiness in one’s soul. Having someone else in your life who helps you realize that joy is another gift unto itself.

When Brandon Jones’ mother-in-law visits his Maryland family from her home in Vermont, she makes it a point to get the tempura broccoli dish from Ekiben in Baltimore each visit, according to an article on baltimorefishbowl.com. It simply brings her joy.

“She always joked that when she’s on her death bed that if there’s anything in the world, she wants tempura broccoli from Ekiben,” Jones recently wrote on Facebook.

Well, unfortunately, she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in late December, according to the article. Jones and his wife planned to drive to Vermont last weekend — “possibly for the last time,” per the story — and they wanted to make sure she had her tempura broccoli joy from Ekiben.

But Jones knew the dish would not quite be the same after a six-hour drive. He hoped to get some inside info so he could prepare it for her once he got to Vermont, so he reached out to Ekiben’s owners and co-founders, Steve Chu and Ephrem Abebe.

Here’s where this story really gets good.

“Thanks for reaching out,” Chu replied. “Ephrem and I are more than willing to meet you guys in Vermont, and make the food fresh so it will be just like what she remembered.”

“I emailed back, saying, ‘You do know that this is Vermont we’re talking about, right?’” Jones told the Washington Post.

“No problem,” Chu responded. “You tell us the date, time and location and we’ll be there.”

Well, Chu, Abebe and co-worker Joe Anonuevo sure enough loaded up a pickup truck, got to the house on Sunday and set up a fryer in the back of the truck to cook tempura broccoli and spicy tofu bowls, according to baltimorefishbowl.com. They then boxed up the meal and rang the doorbell, via Today.com.

“My mom kept saying, ‘I don’t understand — you drove all the way up here to cook for me,’” said Rina Jones. “She was so happy and touched to have that broccoli. She couldn’t believe it.”

The restaurateurs also recognized Jones’ mother-in-law as a regular customer as soon as they saw her face.

“We see a lot of people in the restaurant,” said Chu, “but she always stood out. She loves the food and always made sure to tell us. She’s an amazing, sweet lady.”

Rina shared with the Baltimore Sun that her mother had really been struggling with eating because of sores on her mouth brought on by her cancer. But that didn’t stop her in the least from enjoying her special meal.

“My mom cried later about their generosity and so did I,” said Rina. “They made so much food that she had it again the next day for lunch. It’s something we’ll never forget — I’ll carry that positive memory with me, always.”

Chu deflected away any praise for him or his restaurant, via the Washington Post.

“To me, it was a huge honor to be able to help fulfill the family’s wishes,” explained Chu. “This is about her, not us. There was a lot of good, positive energy in doing this.”

During a time when the always-challenging business of restaurants is facing unprecedented challenges, for Chu and his partners to take on this effort is admirable, to say the least. But they knew that this might make life a little nicer for one of their customers — a human being who needed a little “nicer” in her life. They also received quite a bit of personal gratification for taking that extra step and giving someone an added dose of joy when she needed it.

For one customer facing the struggle of a lifetime, the taste of her beloved tempura broccoli from Ekiben certainly brought a smile and a sigh of appreciation. But my guess is the extra effort, kindness and personal generosity of the people who brought her this taste of joy means that much more.

Yes, the little things matter. But at some point, it’s time to recognize that those little things mean much more than a little.

And, no, I didn’t get that from a bathroom stall.

Executive Editor

Darin is a native of Washington, D.C, and studied journalism at Temple University. He is a combat-veteran Marine, and has worked as a reporter and editor throughout the country. He is married and has one daughter, who doubles as his harshest critic.