POST #39: WHAT WE DO. WHO WE ARE.

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 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.

I’m glad.

 

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.

 

 

PUSHING PAST DISCOMFORT

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I still love them. In truth, I still covet them. Gyroscopes, the best spinning tops ever. Quick flick of the wrist and you could make it perch on tiny pinpoint or even balance on a piece of string. Though the whirl was powerful, the balance was so extremely delicate. The tiniest wobble would topple it from its fragile perch.

This week, we wobbled and fell. This week we found ourselves helped to rise once more to our feet. This week we found ourselves lofted on high, set to spin once again.

***

Over the years I’ve improved at the engage, parry, and retreat of social connection. Blunt tip, foil fencing matches which begin with a salute and end with a dignified bow. I can do this. Really I can. I know when to break eye contact, when to refill my wine glass or garnish my plate with more crudités. A deep breath and then once more into the fray, dear friends.

But I steal nervous glances at my watch. But I inch towards the door.

How is everyone else so happy and comfortable?

What if I am snubbed ignored, avoided?

What if we threw a party and nobody came?

Is it over yet?

Only me. Only me. Only me.

Only not.

***

This week we were caught off –guard. We were shaken by the call. Ninety-two should not be a surprise. But somehow it is. Sadness, resignation, feelings with no words split us like an ever-widening chasm. We balanced on the edge.

There was no time to think. There was no time to fuss. There was no time to clean. All we could do was send out the word.

All we could do was our best.

And everyone came.

***

They did not come empty-handed.

Like Thanksgiving dinner in January, like a voluptuous Roman banquet, like an all-you can eat Sunday supper, the house was suddenly filled with food. Platter upon platter of bagels and lox, cakes and cookies, roast chickens, and deli sandwiches. Russian dressing and potato salad and pickles on the side.

My mother-in-law loved to eat. How could people have known about all her favorites? She yearned to be part of gatherings. And everyone was here for her, together in her honor.

Mostly they came alone, pushing past the red door, pushing past their discomfort. Jovial masks set aside, their faces were as open and as vulnerable as ours. When we relaxed, so did they, uncertainty and fear utterly useless and happily tossed aside.

Of course the world is full of rebounds and second chances. This is good. But the truth is there are times in life when you only get one chance to do the right thing. Thanks to everyone who did so for us. We’ll remember. We promise to do the same.

 

z”l LSF

INVISIBLE ANCHORS

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Oh, give me a break. It wasn’t such a big deal. Really it wasn’t.

Except that it was. A crushed watch. A cracked French Press.   A smashed wine glass. Nothing was terribly expensive. Everything was replaceable. I was inconsolable.

The watch was a plain and simple Timex (so much for their old “takes a lickin’ keeps on tickin’ “ slogan) but I loved the way it hung on my right wrist just so, timed precisely to the second. My sense of time is very private; I always have the face turned inward. The watch steadily ticked the heartbeat of my day. One of the cat’s paws had caught the band and tore it from my wrist.

As for the French Press, over the years I’ve gained a true mastery of the seven precise and precisely timed steps to a cup of coffee, which for me has to be black, very strong and very hot. That I manage to do this when I am basically sleeping on my feet each morning is a source of tremendous pride. You probably think I dropped it. I didn’t. It somehow cracked all by itself. Mysterious. And for me, weirdly gut-wrenching.

The blender teetered and shoved the bowl, which hit the spoon that tipped the wine glass that fell over the precipice of the countertop. It should have been safely out of the way but it wasn’t. That glass was a gift from my son. I felt shattered.

And ridiculous. Good grief, that’s all it took to cut my moorings? To cast me adrift? Small insignificant nothings, a watch, a French Press, a wine glass?

***

Long ago, before I had people to take care of, before I had people who cared for me, I packed a single suitcase, self-consciously cut every tie I could, and left for New York. I was twenty-two.

I had a one-way ticket, an eager, anxious-to-please expression, the wrong clothes, and a vague job offer. I didn’t know anyone in New York. I was the sweet natured, befuddled, sure-to-make-good heroine of a million movies. But this was the real thing.

The job had disappeared by the time I arrived. I found another. I lived in cinder-blocked splendor at the 92nd Street Y, left to rent a room at 104th street from Shalom Aleichem’s aged mistress, steps away from the then notorious Manhattan Avenue. Singed my eyebrows attempting to light the gas stove. Somehow found a boyfriend from Long Island. Nice but dull- I gave him up. Afraid of the subways, I road the buses. Gave up my seat to another, I was pick pocketed. Later, I was mugged. My wallet came back to me both times. It was a good sign and I clung to it.

But the city was pulsating and syncopated and grittily beautiful. I loved the ordered disorder of it all. I loved that even a tiny bit of it was mine.

Most days I made my own lunch. It was no big deal, usually just peanut butter sandwiches and fruit. But after a while I found myself in a rhythm with this. I took great care to make myself lunches, cutting everything just so and even sometimes putting in treats. Eventually I bought myself an actual lunch box, -just plain green, nothing flashy– and every night packed it carefully for the next day. Every noon I opened it and was pleased.

Of course I eventually lost the lunchbox, leaving it on the seat of the bus one day when I was both tired and rushing. If you imagine that I was as devastated about that lost as I was just now about losing my watch, my French Press, and my wine glass you’ll be right. I loved those odd, seemingly insignificant little things. But while the things were lost something else was left. I knew how to care for myself. To be kind to myself. That was never lost, or shattered or smashed at all. Couldn’t be.

So of course I’ve replaced all the little things, the watch, the French Press, the wine glass (actually, my son knows I break things. He originally gave me two). And I set to my rituals once again. I am caring for myself.

Someday, if I need it, I’ll buy myself another lunch box as well.

I don’t know why things break or are lost, often in frustrating, cacophonous concert with each other. Absentmindedness? Sheer clumsiness? Just plain fate?

Or maybe it’s nothing more than a reminder to value the invisible anchors that we all create to keep us steady in the storm, to remember to care for ourselves as we strive to care for those we love.

CHARLOTTES EVERYWHERE

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Naturally the thing I love most about the iPhone is the most antiquated thing of all.

It’s the compass, that directional miracle. Turn it on wherever you are, spin and see exactly where you’re headed. Or headed away from. It’s a nonjudgmental GPS without a bossy, irritating voice. I used to play with compasses as a little kid but unlike Einstein, whose scientific genius was sparked as a four year old by the gift of a compass, I just marvel at them. But I haven’t turned mine on in a while.

I’m preoccupied. Piles of laundry, stacks of work, gluts of emails. The pleasure of seeing how high piles can be stacked is sometimes far more interesting than getting to the bottom of them. In sync with the frustration of world economists, roiled by the possible “Grexit” I was feeling completely Sisyphean. It was like being snarled in a web.

How odd that the woman who manages to spend the summer sweating indoors instead of being warmed by the sun should think so much about the natural world rather than be out in it. But sometimes nature is both generous and bold. Sometimes it comes right to one’s front door.

Literally in my case.

I may not have mentioned that there’s convocation of wasps who’ve found a lovely home burrowing into the wooden Babe Ruth sculpture on my porch. Okay, fine, the idea of the Babe being buzzed is amusing but do stop, save it for another time. That’s not the direction I’m going in today.

They fly in and out, no fancy compass needed. I could have them flushed out but really why? They’re industrious and self-sufficient which is kind of a pleasure to be near. And besides, they’re just visiting. I’m told that after this season they’ll abandon this spot and find another place entirely. So I just watch them. As long as I don’t thoughtlessly block the opening to their home with grocery bags they just watch me as well.

This week those good people at The American Museum of Natural History were sharp enough to note and highlight birthday of E.B. White, author of many wonderful things both for adults and children, but who is particularly celebrated for Charlotte’s Web. I don’t know if all creatures would go to the lengths of unexpected friendship and lasting kindness that Charlotte did for her friend Wilber, but in a summery, dreamy state I’d like to think so.

But then there’s that pull. My compass points me back inside to the piles of clothes, the stacks of work, and the unopened correspondence. Grudgingly I turn with the dial.

And like my summer tenants, the inspiringly industrious wasp colony who’ve chosen to be proudly housed in a monument to one of baseball’s great icons, I start buzzing.

It’s not so bad. In cleaning I discover books and toys and gewgaws that make pleasant memories come rushing back. Ignoring the paperwork relaxes me enough that work ideas trickle and then finally flow. At last I dig through the correspondence.

Clicking clicking clicking, blearily numbed by ad after ad for CVS for Sears for Amazon for L.L. Bean, there was for me, a short and sweet note.

It was sent only to say hello. It was sent only to say that someone remembered something good that happened that I’d long forgotten. It was sent only to say thank you for something where no thanks was due. It was sent so I might hear what I needed to hear when I least expected to hear it.

Maybe this was what my compass was pointing me to all along.

It’s interesting fact. In so many places, in so many ways, we’re urged to be kind. This is a good thing. I think most of us take that encouragement to heart, to make it part of who we are and what we do.

But then too, it’s just as important to know, to feel and to really believe, that kindness will happen to each us when we need it most. Try not to be impatient.

There are Charlottes everywhere it seems.

Happy birthday, E.B. White.

***

“All that I ever hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” E.B. White

Short aside for baseball fans: although of course, the Babe wore Yankee pinstripes for his glory years, he finished his career with the Boston Braves, hence the different uniform.

A TINY DOT OF HONEY

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This past April Fools’ Day Google infused the mundane with sheer joy by turning Google Maps into a gigantic game of Pac- Man. This was especially fun for someone like me who once upon a time spent way too many rolls of quarters racking up points in the arcades of yore. Think of it! You could play anywhere in the world but I loved playing Pac-Man by eating up Manhattan dot by dot: up Fifth Avenue, across 59th skimming the Park, zoom around Columbus Circle and finally cut down Broadway, avoiding the ghosts with a few celebratory stops for bunches of cherries.

It was hugely fun. Besides. I was still good.

But I was thinking about it. With all the masses of people who jam Times Square and Central Park, Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side, South Street Seaport and SoHo, each of us is really on our own self-appointed little Pac-Man journey from the coffee place to the office to drinks to home to bed. We travel alone but together make up the vast, milling and slightly terrifying hive.  Each of us looks out and there is always that throng, pulsing and faceless and sometimes judgmental of anyone or anything that seems a bit out of the norm.  Most of us just put our heads down nervously and continue gobbling the dots lest we be singled out next. Will we be judged? Will anyone out there be kind to us if we need it? Will we always be alone?

In some ways, that fear of being judged or abused because one is a little different has always been the case. I’ve been reading A Traveller in Little Things by W.H. Hudson published in 1923. The book, —all Hudson’s observational writing, in fact—is soft and lyrical, his insights sharp. Hudson, who traveled the English countryside, was a keen observer of everything from birds to human nature, one of the lucky ones possessed of the ability to see and appreciate what often eludes most of us. He was an unusual man, one who chose a very different path.

One evening Hudson found himself in the presence of a wealthy and powerful businessman. This self-centered and condescending boor spent the evening pompously holding court, belittling Hudson’s opinions, completely incurious about his accomplishments. Finally, without provocation, the businessman cut Hudson to the quick by referring to him as a mere “Traveller in Little Things”, in other words, a man not worth much consideration at all. Hudson didn’t respond then although he felt the rebuff intensely. Instead he harnessed the slight as the title for his newest book and wrote the story in the first chapter. Not a vicious revenge, for someone who was attacked for merely being different perhaps, but a sweet one.

As usual, I bounce from one thing to another. Stay with me though. Let’s bring the story home.

We spotted a bee in the house the other day. Most people are alarmed when they see bees but not us. We’ve learned to react but not overreact. We are proud of this. So I was able to scoop the little thing up in a tissue and bring it outside. Really you can’t go through life always being afraid of stingers.

We laid the tiny creature down gently on the porch. She still had golden beads of pollen attached to her flank and legs. The bee trembled slightly but then didn’t move at all. I thought she was gone. My son, who knows about these kinds of things, asked if we had any honey inside. Of course we did.

He spread a tiny dot of honey near the bee then told us to watch closely and wait. At first nothing happened. And then it did. The bee’s tiny proboscis, what looked like its tongue, flitted in and out of the honey, giving it strength. Minutes passed. Then bee quivered for a moment, took a few wobbly steps forward, and spun up in the air, flying directly to the Dogwood tree. “Back to business for her now, “ said my son. “Directly back to work gathering pollen. She’ll head back to her hive after this.”

All it took was a little patience, a little sweetness to save her.

That’s really all it takes to help any of us industrious little Pac-Men and Women, isn’t it?

MAKING YOUR NAME A BLESSING

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As far as I can tell, there are no angels in religious school but there are many actual children. But that’s the thing that keeps me going. That and at any given moment one or more of these very real, very lively, very sneaker-shod little humans can spout something truly memorable out of the general chaos. Here is my view from the front of the room.

They begin by rolling in and trying to sit at the adult-sized desk/chairs that circle my classroom but we all know it won’t last. At least half of them will be on the floor shortly. And that’s okay with me. We’ve made a deal. Or if I’m extending the learning, a “Brit” or a covenant. Check my lesson plans. I’m a barely 5 foot tall adult. In the first class I purposely sat at one of the desks and showed them that my feet dangled awkwardly, just like theirs, not fully touching the floor. I could never sit comfortably at any of those desks. So my choice is to stand when I teach. Let’s play fair. They have the option of sitting on the floor. Best we can do.

The room, which stands alone down a narrow walkway is a strange, almost octagonal shape created not through any brilliant overarching design but as part of the reconfigured religious school banged out of the old sanctuary space.   I tell the kids that fact makes this room extra holy but the truth is that they always give me a squinty look when I say that. I don’t blame them. I’m pushing it. The overhead lighting is harsh and garish. There is one tiny window. The decorations are heartfelt but homely, bravely crafted by a left-handed teacher who always smears marker when she writes and never really mastered how to handle scissors. It’s 4:45 in the afternoon. Everyone is hungry. Everyone is tired. It’s time to start class. But stay with me don’t leave yet. Like a meal that begins with a pickle but ends with a slice of strudel, this story begins a bit sour but the finish is sweet.

The lesson was about Naming. In the Jewish tradition, probably in others too, we teach that each of us has three names:

*The name you are born with or the name your parents gave you

*The name people call you, nicknames and such

*The name you make for yourself.

I love talking to them about their names. Their job is to go home and find out the often complicated story behind how and why they were named. Sometimes they’re named for a beloved relative who has passed away. Sometimes they’re given a name because it’s simply a beautiful word that means something special to their parents.   I always go a little further and look up the meanings of their names, “Michael (from the Hebrew, meaning “Who is like God?) Or Zachary (again from Hebrew, “Remembered by God”). The meanings of their names are always interesting. I love seeing them see themselves through a different lens.

But really it’s the last part of naming that’s the kicker.  The name you make for yourself. How can anyone make people think good things when they simply hear your name? How can anyone make his or her very name a blessing?

It’s a complicated idea. They talked about giving charity and about recycling. They talked about buying an extra bag of groceries for the food shelters when they went to the market. All good. They were on the right track.

The name you make for yourself is so difficult because there are no lists to check off. There is no applause or gold stars. There is no finish line. What there is perhaps, after a whole life, is a memory of the goodness you’ve left to the world that can be conjured with your very name.

Making your name a blessing is so very difficult because it actually isn’t about you alone. It’s about you and how you relate to everyone throughout your life. It’s about everyone, about making the whole world a better place.

Jewish tradition speaks of the Lamed Vavniks, the 36 hidden tzadiks or truly righteous souls, who are hidden in each generation. No one ever knows who they are. But according to legend, their goodness is such that they quietly combat all evils, keeping the world whole and moving forward. They are always there, even in the darkest times. The Lamed Vavniks are never identified, even to themselves.  They don’t judge people; instead they always look to be kind.

So the kids wanted to know, where are the Lamed Vavniks? Everywhere and anywhere. A true Lamed Vavnik could be someone powerful and famous or someone you’d pass by on the street without a second look. Someone very old or someone very young. A Nobel Prize winner or a kid just struggling to read.   Someone Jewish or perhaps not.

It’s possible, in fact, that one or more of the Lamed Vavniks were even sitting in my classroom that afternoon. I didn’t know. None of us will ever know. We’re not meant to know.

So I asked, how do you make people think good things when they simply hear your name, when all that’s left is memory? How do you make your name a blessing?

It was dark now and almost time to go home. They raised their hands. “Be kind. Try hard every day to live a good life.” Exactly.

THE RIGHT THING AT THE RIGHT TIME

College applications, rife with their convoluded secret codes of “EA” “ED” “Restricted EA” and so on have nothing on the real tension and drama of high school senior year: coming up with a cogent yearbook quote. After all, this mouthful of words is supposed to be not just the summation of who you are but a glimpse who you hope to be.

Here is mine:

“Men in history lose their centering in eternity when they grow anxious for the outcome of their deeds.” Huston Smith

Mmmm. But “anxious for the outcome” was exactly what I was. And so after a very interesting zig-zag through a number of years I became the very thing I never thought I’d be. I am a teacher. This was not a plan. Nor was it a calling, at least one I was aware of. But sometimes a path zigs in just the right direction, even if that isn’t the direction one was expecting. For someone who habitually kept eyes on the outcome, teaching anchors me firmly in the moment at hand.

I am witness to some remarkable things as the accidental teacher. Come with me and see some of what I see.

***

The kids are all together, waiting for the signal to send them shuffling off to class. They mostly roam as tiny, laughing packs, bouncing off each other like pinballs in an arcade game. But there are always one or two kids who stand apart and on their own, glued to the wall.

Finished with snacks and with nothing to do but circle the room, a group of cool boys lights upon one of these solitary kids. To grown up eyes they’re including him, how nice it is that they’re talking to him. But that’s not what’s happening at all. If you look closely you’ll see they’re not smiling but smirking. They’re not talking but taunting. You’ve got to admire their technique: it’s not what they’re saying but how they are saying it.  It’s a lot of “heeeeyyyy great shirt with all those stripes” or “Have you ever actually counted the freckles on your face?” Or “What is that thing that you’re reading?” It’s clear too that the solitary kid doesn’t want to talk to them. He looks uncomfortable. Panicky. Almost desperate. He tries to move away but they keep moving with him. Then they are all called to class and it’s over. But it happens the next day. And the next. It’s a game without an ending.

Until one day it’s different. The solitary kid comes into the room and finds the pack of boys before they find him. He doesn’t look for a safe corner—he actually walks right up to them. They are not expecting that. But there’s no drama. He says hi and offers some of his bag of gummy sharks. They take a few and then he just walks away. Completely off guard, the pack leaves him alone that day.

The kid makes a point of saying hello to that group of boys every day before going off by himself. Sometimes he offers candy, sometimes not. But now they leave him alone. Game over.

***

They were a great class and they had a great plan. Annie, one of the quietest girls in our room was having a birthday. The others decided they would surprise her by shouting “Happy Birthday” when she came through the classroom door, sing to her, ask her what she was going to do after school, make her the star for the day. Just before class started one of the girls ran into the room in a near panic. “We can’t do this,” she said. “I just saw Annie in the hallway and said ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. She looked really terrified. She’s so shy that if we  a big deal it will be too much for her.” Class went on as normal. Annie looked relieved.

***

He’s the kind of kid who walks into walls because he’s always so preoccupied about whatever it is he is thinking about. Even so he looks up and makes a point of saying hello to the same red-headed kid whenever he passes him in the hallway or sees him in the library. Never misses. One day, a guy grabs the kid and asks him why he bothers saying hello to this boy with the red hair. “You’re an idiot,” the guy says, “That red-headed kid won’t ever answer you. Don’t you know he’s autistic?” The kid responds, “Yeah, I know that. And I also know he’s a person.”

***

The classroom is not a fairyland and there are times when it’s hard for moments like these to rise above the chaos. But things like this do  happen all the time. The other kids are watching. They’re learning.

People wonder how teachers can bear to teach the same lessons for so many years. The answer, of course, is that we never do. Lessons are like paintings.   Paintings aren’t ever complete, are never static—they are always shifting with the responses of different people, creating and recreating something fascinating each time.

Teaching brings me right to the moment at hand. The kids I teach are not focusing on encapsulating their lives in a yearbook quote or contemplating their centering in eternity. They are just living and like so many of us,trying to do the right thing at the right time.

 

THE COLOR OF YOUR EYES

Some of the best things in my life almost never happened.

So there I was, nervous as all get out but attempting nonchalance by leaning against the cinderblock walls. I was waiting for my youngest son as he finished his first day of preschool.

The cool moms, to a woman clad in variations of the right workout gear, were all animatedly chatting. I longed to be animatedly chatting too but rarely managed it. I was usually uncomfortable because I could never figure out the right thing to wear at the right time or say the right thing at the right moment. To be fair, the women seemed nice. They probably were. But at that moment those women felt as distant and as unapproachable to me as the perfectly coiffed celebrities in People Magazine. This is a magazine, by the way, I profess to hate but will always read if a copy is in front of me.

As I was counting the minutes until my escape, I spotted a woman I’d seen earlier in the morning. We’d been at the elementary school helping set up the book fair, but we were rushed, we were working and we hadn’t actually met. I was sure she wouldn’t recognize me. If she did I was sure she didn’t want to bother talking to me. And so, not to humiliate myself, I pretended I hadn’t seen her. Like a little kid, I was actually staring at my shoes.

But then there were four shoes in my lowered field of vision, not just two. It was that woman of course. She said she saw me this morning at school and she also had a son in the other preschool class. She was going to take her son back to work at the elementary book fair in the afternoon. She asked if my son and were I going back there too.

We were. I said I’d meet her there. But the little boys hadn’t had lunch. So I didn’t head straight to the school. I went home. I packed two lunches: one for my son and one for hers and headed back over to the school to meet her. She reached out—I reached back.

This is the story of how I almost missed meeting the person who became one of my closest friends. And because I was so desperately shy, my son almost missed meeting the little boy who became, and still is, his best friend.

***

I was hot, grubby, and seriously underdressed when I got the call at work.   There was a dinner party at some elegant spot on the Upper East Side. The person on the other end of the line was actually begging me to come to this dinner. I was clearly a last minute fill in—she denied it. She applied some serious pressure—naturally I caved. There was no time to go home to change.

I arrived at the restaurant early, but couldn’t make myself walk through the door. I circled the block once. Then twice. Then again and again and again. Panic was rising with every circuit. I was going to bail out on this thing. I could feel it.  A million excuses crowded my brain I but couldn’t figure out which one sounded most plausible. At last, my immense sense of guilt about sneaking away overcame my immense sense of panic.   I pushed myself through the front door and was directed to a long table. There was one chair left and I slid into it. I found myself seated across from a tall, thin man with distinctive horn-rimmed glasses and a very kind face.  He was nice. In fact, he was much more than that. Had I used but one of my many excuses and headed back to Brooklyn I would have missed meeting the man who would eventually become my beloved husband, my soul-mate, the excellent and deeply caring father to our three sons and numerous cats.

***

Some of us are born knowing how to make small talk seem effortless, know when it’s proper to kiss on one cheek or two, know how to look people in the eye and really listen to what they’re saying.

Some of us are not.

I was lucky twice and who knows how many times more. But how many connections had I missed by not reaching out? What had I missed? Who had I missed? And then I realized an extraordinary thing.

I never knew the color of anyone’s eyes. I couldn’t know—how could I if I wasn’t really looking at them, focusing on them?

So I forced myself to look up and really look at people, not just at who they appeared to be but who they really might be. You can tell by the eyes.

A long time ago a woman reached out across a hallway to me and became my friend. A man with a kind face reached out to me across a table and became my husband.

It’s my turn to reach out first and wait for the reach back. When I really look in people’s eyes what I most often see is kindness.