A holiday story, or how I came to depend “on the kindness of strangers” (to quote Blanche DuBois, in the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire”):
It began on a Friday afternoon in early August, when I tripped over my sandals while walking and fell onto the hard city pavement. I knew immediately that I did not break any bones, but I could also feel the sticky warmth of blood dripping down the side of my face. Within seconds, two young women rushed over to help me. A moment later a doorman appeared with wet paper towels to hold against my bleeding forehead. The three ushered me into the doorman’s building, and ignoring my protests, phoned 911. Minutes later two EMS men appeared and gently tried to persuade me to be taken to the nearest hospital. “This is what you pay taxes for, Ma’am,” one said.
I refused. I would not sit in a hospital emergency room for hours waiting to see a doctor. At this point, one of the women had to leave, but the other fretted, “Remember what happened to Natasha Richardson.” British actress Richardson, who had fallen while skiing, seemed fine immediately afterward, but died an hour later of a brain bleed. I still refused. I wanted to speak to my husband but had left my cellphone at home. The woman — her name, I learned later, was Victoria — used her phone to call him. He and I agreed that I should come home and we would decide what to do. “How are you getting home?” Victoria asked. “I’ll walk. I live only a block or so from here,” I answered. “Oh no,” she declared, and a few minutes later I was sitting in an Uber car she had ordered at her expense, on my way home.
My husband and I went to a nearby urgent care center, where an attentive physician assured me I did not have a concussion and put some stitches in my still-bleeding forehead. By the next day I had a black-and-blue eye and visible bruises on my hip, but I was able to get around. I walked over to the building near where I had fallen. The doorman’s face lit up when he saw me, but when I reached out to tip him, he adamantly refused to take my money. “I’m so happy to see you well,” he said. “All I want is your blessing. That is enough for me.”
I found Victoria’s cellphone number on my husband’s phone and called her. After thanking her I asked for her address so I could send her a little gift. She wouldn’t hear of that, but sounded thrilled when I offered to give her a copy of my new biography of Golda Meir. I don’t believe she’s Jewish or even knew who Golda Meir was, but she loved the idea of receiving a signed book from “a real author.” I took the book and a box of candy to her address, which turned out to be a brownstone building, with nobody at home and no one on duty outside. Happily, a doorman across the street graciously offered to hold onto my gift bag and give it to Victoria when she returned.
My story of the kindness of strangers might have ended there — the women and doorman who so generously helped me, the sweet EMS workers, the caring physician, the second doorman. But then came a sequel. During the last week of August, my husband and I drove to Cape Cod for a brief vacation. We made a wrong turn, and found ourselves in the town of Falmouth, with a long drive ahead to Chatham, where we were staying. My husband filled our car with gas to make that drive, but just as we entered Chatham, he discovered that he had lost his wallet, probably at the gas station. Dejectedly, we headed back to Falmouth, although sure in our hearts that we would never recover the wallet. As we drove, he received a phone call from the Falmouth Police Station. Someone had found the wallet and brought it to the station. When we picked it up, everything was intact — money, credit cards, and all. The finder had left no identity, so there was no way for us to say thank-you.
For Jews everywhere, this is a season of miracles — of the creation of the world and the first humans in it. We know how much evil there can be in this world. But the miracle is how much goodness abounds in it also: the goodness of people not standing idly by when another needs help; the kindness of strangers caring for one another, not for a reward, but out of simple humanity. It is a season of miracles and a season to be grateful for them.
Francine Klagsbrun’s biography, “Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel,” was named the 2017 Book of the Year by the National Jewish Book Awards.