Lazar, Detroit, 1920
Really, no one could figure out how he did it. He was the marvel of the neighborhood. Quick and confident and proud, he never made a mistake.
He was a tiny, compact little man, wrapped in an apron. Standing tall behind the counter of his grocery store. He added every figure in his head. Every account, every transaction was there, etched clearly in his precise and ordered mind.
A very smart man. A grocery man.
A man who selflessly extended credit to his neighbors so they could bring food home to their families when times were hard.
A kind person.
David, Oswiecim, Poland, 1939
There he is, his chin jutting out proudly, his arm draped casually around the shoulders of his childhood friends, a bold, almost insolent grin on his face. A yellow star is crudely stitched onto his breast pocket.
Famous for his jokes (who else would have shoved the goat through the door when it opened for Elijah?) he knew the prayer book so thoroughly his hands made grip marks on the leather.
He will run away soon. They will catch him. They will hold him for five long years. The horrors were unspeakable. So he never spoke of them.
A new country and a new start. Bent now from his suffering, but still powerfully strong, he works first as a bellhop. Then he stands for decades at a machine in a factory.
We knew he was never the same but we never knew who he’d been.
He was so very tired. But let a small child catch his eye? Radiance would spread over him that could warm the sun itself.
A kind person.
Erv, Chicago, 1960
No question about it, he is the coolest guy in the room. Hair brushed back, perfectly dressed. No double creases ever.
Nothing handed to him on a silver platter either. No silver spoons touch his lips. He’s been working since forever. Proud of it.
This guy truly knows how to be a friend. He’s got your back. Wait, Better than that. He’s figured out how to help everyone avoid making mistakes. He is beloved.
Don’t be fooled by the posing though. He knows how to turn a phrase. He can write poetry too.
Falsely accused, he refuses to capitulate to a bullying professor. He is denied graduation for a year. But he stands firm. He is right.
He is vindicated.
An eye doctor: he goes on to become one of the finest and most caring healthcare practitioners anywhere. Now he’s got everyone’s back.
A kind person.
Me, Bloomfield Hills, 1975
“She’s the smartest girl I’ve ever met. “
It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. The person who made this declaration really was smart—brilliant even. What on earth could I have said that afternoon?
I really don’t remember.
I do remember sitting and talking to him though. I didn’t know enough to make pronouncements about anything at all. If I had, I’m certain I wouldn’t have been right.
I remember talking to him. I remember listening to him. I remember a gentle and generous conversation. He was nice.
That’s all. It wasn’t hard to be kind.
And at that time, for that boy, that might have been just enough.
Above photo by Croze, Blessing and others: from The Saarinen Door, published by Cranbrook Academy of Art and Printed by the Cranbrook Press c 1963.