I’m nose-deep in a book I love, Goodbye to All That. It’s based on the quintessential essay Joan Didion wrote about arriving and leaving new york decades ago. The book’s 24 essays, all love/hate letters to new york city capture what constantly goes through your mind and slips through your fingers living here: why you love New York City and would never leave and my, god, how much more of this can I take and where can I go? Its 24 writers have all been there, ahem here, and left. Some come back, some only pine to.
With all those stories filling my head, yesterday I had the perfect new york city day. It started with gifting two hard crusted fennel seed rolls to two acquaintances and ended with being gifted with this bracelet above – and wondering what would life be like if we minded others as much as ourselves. Let me back up.
My husband arrived home from Holland Thursday night after a month away on business and immediately went into a three day course in Manhattan. Yesterday, I was meeting him and two of his friends in the course for dinner. That morning I did something I rarely do, I went shopping; I walked from one to another of my Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods treasure-hunting and enjoying the sun after weeks of frigid temperatures, finding everyone friendly in a way we only are here when the sun pokes out after weeks of frigid temperatures.
Toward the end of my errands walking to the bus stop to enjoy the leisure of a bus ride home rather than submerging into the subway, I passed my favorite Italian bakery. This is no ordinary bakery, this bakery has been there longer than you’ve been alive no matter how long that is. Walking in you are engulfed in not the sickly sweet smells of ordinary pies and cakes, no, but nostalgic smells of Italian grandmas who spent their days baking sesame and almond cookies, cannolis and sweetly dry ricotta cheesecakes.
I hesitated thinking of the hard crusted subtly sweet fennel roll only they make. Nah, I said to myself, I don’t need it. So I walked on only to walk back after a few feet. I bought two rolls and asked that they be put in separate bags delighting myself by my own idea that I would give them to my husband’s course-mates when I met them that evening. They were both staying in temporary residences and I thought now they have breakfast.
And so at the end of dinner, I reached into my bag and brought out the little paper white bags with their hidden treasure. How do I describe the silence with so unexpected a gift and the genuine appreciation. I thought how sad it is we don’t do this more often. Just give a little gift to say, “I thought of you.” Just give a little something, even if it’s just a compliment, to touch someone else. We all left the restaurant and my husband and I walked into the furiously falling, fresh, puffy white snow. It was uproarious, magical and we walked to the subway.
Ten minutes into the ride home I noticed an elderly woman standing and got up to give her my seat. As I did, several other people also seemed to arouse and notice her, she who had almost seemed not there a moment earlier. Now several people were offering her their seat but she was insistent to take mine as I had made the first offer. Supported by other passengers, they gently moved her to my seat and righted her. Then we actually took her in. She was dressed quite fashionably in a gold scarf, little ribboned shoes and her light eyes sparkled.
My husband and I began to talk with her and it turns out she is a designer and was returning from a fashion show in Manhattan. She was raised in Istanbul, despite her porcelain complexion and green-blue eyes and is 82 years old. A moment later her eyes filled with tears and she told us that she lost her husband two years ago and it was lonely. She asked what my husband and I do. He told her he helps people do better in whatever their field, mostly business, and that I help people with diabetes. She was moved, her face lit again. “What is your favorite color?” she asked. “Pink” I said. For several moments she searched deep into her big bag and took out this bracelet and gave it to me. Those Italian rolls danced around my head, you give, you get.
“When you get to your stop can you get home?” my husband asked. She looked a bit apprehensive but said yes. She gave us her name and email address, I wanted to think about getting to know her better, contacting her, but I likely won’t because that is also how things happen in New York. Unexpected intersections and then they fade away.
But it was the perfect New York day and I pondered, if this is how days were how beautiful life would be. Perhaps my perfect yesterday was also a special gift to me from above. Yesterday was my 43 year diaversary and I couldn’t think of a way I would have rather celebrated it. Of course now you’ll say I buried the lead.