Jane Goldberg

Tapper | Historian | Comedian

Jane Goldberg essay: “My Lucky Day” from the book “Bekindr: The Transformative Power of Kindness” by Eva Ritvo, MD

Posted June 2nd, 2017 at 6:58 am

This past winter, I lost three sets of keys, all in one week while riding my bicycle. I never heard them drop to the ground. I retraced my path immediately, without success. I’ve been diagnosed with severe ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) — I am very scattered. But still, losing three sets of keys in one week?

This story is about the third loss.

It was a frigid Saturday morning, and the mother-in-law of a friend of mine, invited me to the Tribeca Synagogue for the Kiddush after services. This particular synagogue is on White Street and it is white white white! It sticks out like a piece of modern art, set way back from the street, and is surrounded by old, cast-iron buildings. There are a few sculptures off to the side, like castaways, good for locking my bike up

After the Kiddush, I went back out into the freezing day, unlocked my bike and headed to the A train at Church St and Chambers, only a few blocks away, south toward the Statue of Liberty. When I got to a pole near the subway where I was going to lock my bike, I discovered, after furiously rummaging through my purse, I couldn’t find my keys.

NOT AGAIN? This was a déjà vu, worse a recurring nightmare. This would be the third time of lost set of keys that week, and my first instinct was to go into denial. After a few minutes of shivering in the cold and searching through my purse, I rode back to the Tribeca Synagogue on the exact same trail I took to the subway. Surely I had dropped them by the sculpture where I parked my bike. But no, nada, no keys anywhere.

An important part of this story is that I had already had a terrible morning before any key loss again. I was depressed, which had taken on a life of its own by the time of the key loss.

***

We New Yorkers tend not to see the homeless begging on the streets, panhandling, and often even in the winter, asleep under a lot of blankets, but they are always there. We often choose not to see them, a fixture, like some huge blight to the city. There are city shelters. Why sit outside in the freezing cold? But the weather doesn’t stop them from begging or waiting for a hand out, even on a frigid winter day.

So, when I passed an old, disheveled-looking man sitting on a metal chair, with a little plastic cup in front of him with hardly any change in it, I didn’t think much about it. That is, not until he screamed out to no one in particular, “Life isn’t worth living!!!! What’s the use?”

Those words certainly did resonate with me from my morning of despair. I didn’t look back, but when I got to the corner of the next block, I stopped and decided to look for some loose change. Searching through my wallet, I found three ten-dollar bills and not one penny, nickel, dime, or quarter! I must have stood on that corner for over five minutes deliberating what to do. A ten-dollar bill is a lot for me to give to a panhandling stranger.

I had given up the key search and was going to take my bike onto the subway, having already covered my tracks numerous times now. Still, I walked back towards the old man, recalling his outcry of despair to no one in particular, and approached him.

As I handed him a ten-dollar bill, I said off the cuff, “This is your lucky day and my unlucky day.” He immediately stood up and said, “I don’t want this to be your unlucky day.” I waved him off as I started to leave, saying, “It’s not your fault I lost my keys.”

The old man turned around, and from a standpipe* behind him, picked up my keys and showed them to me, asking, “Are these yours?” Indeed, they were. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was like the red sea had parted. (True, I was at a synagogue that day, and this unexpected miracle had happened). How could this be? There I was hesitating, hemming and hawing, about my ten-dollar bills and no change. Not impulsively, I made the decision to give him that ten spot.

An additional gift on his part was pointing out to me a gigantic mural on a gigantic dirty white wall across the street. The mural was in clear, plain view, so very big, unhidden by scaffolding and the tons of construction occupying so much of New York City now. The man told me those multicultural drawn faces of adults and children were pictures of the first people to land on Ellis Island. He told me he had always been interested in history.

I was so grateful about the keys, I asked him if he needed shoes, seeing the dilapidated ones he was wearing. He told me what he really needed was a warm coat, and I vowed to find him one.

The lesson I can draw from this cosmic coincidence is that I should be kinder to myself and less self-critical for losing my keys, and to honor and celebrate my own better nature. And that life can be easier and happier with small gestures from strangers that mean a big deal. I think this could be true for all of us.

****

Standpipes, still can be seen all over manufacturing districts, and other NYC streets as well, were once used to help put out fires, replaced by fire hydrants. Now they’re just there, standing, as symbols of an older era in New York City.

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