View From The Middle
Saw a blurb in a column last week by Cindy Adams in The Post where she cites an occasion where she went delivering a Meals on Wheels lunch or dinner to an elderly lady in her neighborhood, noting, “’Tis the season to be caring for those needing.” She said a person in her 90s, to whom she brought a meal, was living alone and was grateful, saying she had relatives who, “occasionally, when I need it, make calls for me, like to the doctor.” Ms. Adams concludes by saying, “If not for Meals on Wheels, many New York citizens would be hungry. Please…help.”
The article, of course, set me to thinking, remembering a series of errands I did a long time ago (about which I may have mentioned before). I think it’s worth mentioning again at this time of year.
I had associated myself with both the Canarsie and the Amersfort Neighborhood Development Corporations, two city/state non-profits that serviced a number of entities in these parts, not the least of which were senior citizen groups, youth organizations, merchant associations and such. Currently, we have Millennium Development, which does the same thing. I was a “community organizer,” a position years later cited as one of the stalwart background positions President Barack Obama referred to as fodder for his political acumen. It wasn’t the top spot in his background, but he gained some experience with community groups and, by the way, learned some compassion for his fellow man while he was at it.
By the same method, I also learned some things from, and about, my fellow man, leading me to give some extra thought to those who are not so fortunate, especially at this time of year.
One of the jobs I volunteered for was to help with the Meals On Wheels program. It wasn’t necessarily a hard or physically laborious task. When I started, frankly, I thought it might be somewhat of a lark; a chance to meet others and, by the way, do some good, not thinking it would make such an impression on me. We “food deliverers” (for lack of a better title) would proceed — at 5:30 a.m. every weekday morning — either in cars or small vans, in this case, to Brookdale Hospital’s huge kitchen where the meals were prepared, deposited on paper plates, wrapped in cellophane, put in Styrofoam-type trays and stored in boxes, which we would load into our vehicles.
We had a prepared list of those who needed our services and dutifully went on our way. It was the holiday season, so I was ready to quip my way through each delivery with some sort of quick appropriate greeting, whether it was Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Christmas related, hoping that I wouldn’t have to linger and talk too much. I knew the meal was important to the senior citizen, or, if not a senior, at least a disabled younger person, but I mustn’t take too much time.
However, that, in itself, became a task more difficult than I’d imagined. Right from the start, as soon as I pressed the doorbell on my first delivery, an apartment in one of the projects, a little old lady came to the door and, yes, happily, took me by the arm and ushered me into her dining room! I’d barely had the chance to say, “Happy Chanukah!” having noticed the decorations in the house, when she sat me down and said, “You’re going to have some coffee with me!” It was an order! How could I refuse?
We talked, and she told me I was the first visitor she’d had in two days and that someone had “made a small mistake” and had missed her home delivery the day before. She wasn’t angry, saying, “I understand. People make mistakes. But YOU must pay for it by sitting with me for a moment!”
When I left, ten minutes later, she said she hoped I would be the one to visit her the next day. Made me feel good.
My next stop happened to be only a few floors down in the same building. I pressed the doorbell. Nothing. I knocked, lightly at first, and when I received no reply, made the knock heavier. The door opened — just a crack — and the man inside peeked out at me, sizing me up. I told him who I was and showed my identification and he muttered something about “people coming at all hours….” Then he closed the door so he could unsnap the chain lock, opened it just enough so that I could squeeze the meal in and hand it to him then, just as fast, slammed the door closed again. I was left with my mouth open, but I just scratched my head and headed back down the hall. Just as I was ready to board the elevator, though, I heard the man’s voice yell, “Thank you!” I felt a little better after that.
The rest of my deliveries all had their own little stories, of course, but in keeping with this column at this time of year, I must tell you about the last visit.
It was a private house this time. Near the porched entrance was a small grotto that held a crèche depicting Jesus in the cradle being visited by the Three Wise Men. When I rang the bell, the woman who answered, pretty obviously in her 80s, wished me a merry Christmas and invited me inside (it had started snowing and was getting cold out). I told her I could only stay a moment and handed her the meal, which she put on a table, turned to me and said, “I’m glad you came. I was expecting to see my son but he couldn’t make it. I just wanted somebody to admire my Christmas tree.” With that, she brought me to her living room where, on a small end table, she had displayed one of those two-feet-tall green-wire trees she’d bought at the supermarket. The woman had decorated it herself with a single strand of blue lights and a silver garland.
“See? It lights up,” she said. As I left, she walked me to the door and said, “I’m glad you joined me. Have a blessed Christmas.” I could tell she was proud of her tree and, of course, the crèche.
The whole day was a huge proud moment for me. There were other, similar occasions that day, all, frankly, making me pretty proud of myself for having at least in a small way, done something for someone else. After all, that’s what this season is all about, isn’t it? Let us be thankful for what we have, and especially for what we can give to others.
Have a merry Christmas, happy Chanukah and happy Kwanzaa!