This is a story of an amazing stranger, a couple of teenagers, a gift… and a dream.
A few years ago, I took some teenagers to Washington, DC. In trying to be economical, I searched online for hotels. The affordable hotels, of course, had terrible online reviews. Higher crime neighborhoods, paper-thin walls, poor customer service. The great reviews were for luxury travel, which did not exactly match our teenagers-with-backpacks plan. What to do?
After watching me change my mind many times, Doug made the decision for us.
“Choose the least expensive room in the nicest hotel you can find.”
Whatta guy. He wanted to give these kids the best trip of their young lives. A gift.
We were hoping for a Washington DC experience filled with education, art, government, and history. A swimming pool and pizza were not so high on the list. So we chose the 150 year old Willard. Their advertising stated:
“…this grand Washington DC historic hotel has hosted almost every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce in 1853. On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King finished his famous “I Have A Dream” speech while a guest at the Willard. Other notable guests have included Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, David Lloyd George, P.T. Barnum, Lord and Lady Napier, and countless others. Walt Whitman mentioned the hotel in his works; and Mark Twain penned two books here in the early 1900s.”
The photos looked beautiful online, and the place was walking distance to every place we would be visiting. Charles Dickens, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and Mark Twain stayed here? We were sold.
I booked one of their cheapest rooms, which was a real splurge for our budget. But this was an important life event. The crown jewel of high school, the beginning of the Rest of Life for these teens. Trips like this can be inspiring! We wanted them to think big. The world is a big place, anything is possible.
In this fog of dreaming, we drove, flew, and taxied toward our destination, backpacks in tow. Everything took longer than planned. We finally arrived, utterly exhausted and very hungry, just as darkness was descending on DC. Exiting the taxi, we were instantly greeted by valets in gloves. And opulence. The golden lights gleamed from crystal lighting overhead, reflected on gorgeous, immaculately perfect furnishings.
Oh, my goodness.
We held on to our own backpacks and stepped up to the front desk.
“Welcome to the Willard. What brings you here tonight?” the front desk man said with a quizzical smile. We so obviously didn’t fit in. Politicians and lobbyists consulted around the famous lobby and Peacock Alley. Others were dressed to the nines for a glamorous wedding reception taking place down the hall. I felt like Cinderella, showing up at the ball in rags, toting a mop. Late.
“And what is it that you expect from the Willard?” the man asked.
Without hesitation, the bold teen piped up, shoulders back. “Nothing less than perfection.”
The man put down his pencil. He folded his hands. “Well, the reason I ask, is because we have a problem with your room. I see here that you reserved a double queen room, but I would like to change that. We have one single King room that you may stay in. The room is larger than the one you reserved, and you would need a rollaway bed. Would that be acceptable to you?”
“That’s fine” I breathed a sigh of relief. We had arrived so late, I was glad to have any room secured. I was so tired I would have slept in a bunk bed.
“If you are certain that you can accept a rollaway, then here are your card keys. Upstairs and to the right. I hope that you will find the accommodations to your liking. Again, welcome to the Willard.”
We giggled in the elevator, feeling ridiculous in jeans and sweatshirts, surrounded by such richness and propriety.
Our laughter stopped suddenly when we arrived at our destination. A placard on the door in front of us read “Martin Luther King Suite”.
This was the one.
The King Room.
The room in the advertisement.
The room where Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech.
We opened the door to the most luxurious, 5-room suite that any of us had ever seen. Marble floors, antique furniture, a magnificent view. The rooms in which one of the world’s most inspiring speeches was written.
I cried, of course.
It was like walking into a piece of history, and getting to live there for a few days. What a way to inspire some kids!
Later, room service was delivered. Gourmet food, linens, china, crystal were rolled in on a wheeled table by a man in gloves and tuxedo. He set it out like the footmen in Downton Abbey might have, removing silver domes from the serving dishes and quietly filling glasses.
We had reserved the humblest room in this hotel, and had instead been given the best.
I slept in the rollaway in the round parlor. Staring out into the moonlight, I pondered the world. How was it that I was inside this magnificent spot of the world, overlooking the power strip of the nation? I sat, secure in comfort and luxury on a rollaway, in the very room where a dream had taken form and started to change to world. He was a big, important person with a big, important dream… I am a mom with teenagers.
“Why?” I asked the front desk man later. “Why did you give us this amazing gift?”
He smiled sincerely, and replied, “It is wonderful to give to someone who doesn’t expect or demand it.”
There aren’t even words to describe just how important that trip was. Think back to your teen years… Do you remember times when people treated you with generosity? Can you remember all the times that people were just good and wonderful and kind and respectful? Even to total strangers?
This trip that we took changed our lives. We saw people differently…kindly. We looked with gratitude because we were aware of what a gift we had been given.
I’d like to keep that perspective.
Each day we have here is a Gift.
We did nothing to deserve it.
We couldn’t afford to pay for it even if we did know what to ask for.
It is a Gift.
The man behind the desk at the Willard showed us that humanity is kind.
People can be kind, and good, and generous.
People can change lives for the better, in unexpected ways.
If he can wield that kind of power, then we can, too.
That is a powerful dream.