I watched her as I made my way down the hallway. I was familiar with her, even knew her name, something that I couldn’t say about most of my other neighbors.
Mrs. Clancy, the apartment complex’s ubiquitous octogenarian, was struggling with her foldable shopping cart. She was stuck in her doorway and the harder she tried to exit her small one-bedroom with a view, the more entangled she became in her bulky coat and oversized patent leather handbag.
A quick extrication, and she was free to make her weekly trek to our nearby market. I carried the cart down the elevator, helping her unfold it once on the street level. With a hug and the promise of a plate of fresh baked cookies, Mrs. C was on her way.
As she slowly walked the half block to the store, I waited to make sure she arrived safely. Turning the opposite direction I headed to my office.
The thought of home-baked Snickerdoodles kept me distracted the whole day. I had lived in the city for only a few months, and aside from my co-workers, was having a difficult time meeting new people.
As the elevator opened on my floor, I immediately smelled the welcome aroma of warm cinnamon and sugar. Walking by Mrs. C’s door, the aroma was it’s strongest, making my mouth water.
Seconds after dropping my bags on a chair in the foyer, my doorbell rang. Mrs. C’s, still in a flour dusted apron, was standing in the hall holding a plate overflowing with still warm cookies.
Inviting her in, I made us both a nice cup of vanilla rooibos, an excellent compliment to her tangy cinnamon treats. Over our cups and dessert plates, Mrs. C and I became fast friends. She asked about my job and I learned she was a teacher at P.S. 204 for 30 years. She never learned how to drive, and I missed racing around the winding roads of my hometown.
We spoke of our families – her children lived in other states, called often but rarely visited; mine – physically and emotionally distant.
A mutual love of books and music only acted to further bond us. That and our mutual sense of loneliness.
The company where I worked was a growing startup. Most of the staff was recruited from out-of-state, each of us struggling with homesickness and a lack of local friends. Mrs. C told me about her friends, the men and women who frequented the senior center close by, who also faced that same sense of loneliness, outliving family and friends.
Begging off a second cup of tea, I walked Mrs. C back to her apartment. Thanking her for the cookies and company, I invited her to dinner the next evening. Later, sitting alone in my apartment, an idea began to germinate.
At work the next day, I spoke with a few of my co-workers about my idea, each one excited to be a part of it. I couldn’t wait to bring it up with Mrs. C.
Over parmesan chicken and bruschetta, I laid out my proposal to my newly adopted grandmother. My friends and I were missing family, her friends were too. We should bring them all together in the same way we had.
A small idea grew into a big one. My friends hosted an informal pot-luck for Mrs. C’s friends at the senior center, a meet-and-greet that helped everyone learn about shared interests. The dinners became a monthly gathering, with the surrogate families soon enjoying trips to art galleries, the theater, sporting events, and concerts.
Holidays and birthdays, once solitary and forgotten days became anticipated celebrations. A new generation benefited from the knowledge of their elders, and the older generation benefitted from what the juniors could teach them. Histories were passed on, and new technologies were introduced. Lives were enriched, young and old.
I thought of how all these people were changed while I sat in the sanctuary waiting to give Mrs. C’s eulogy. The pews filled with two divergent generations, but one huge extended family.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Michael challenged me with “‘There’s a phrase in Judaism, ‘tikkun olam’, which means ‘repairing the world.’ The concept is that people shouldn’t do something simply because the religion requires it but rather because it makes things- something, anything- a little bit better.’ -Mike Mayo” and I challenged Leo with “‘Many a man’s nose was broken by his mouth.’ – Irish proverb”
This challenge was difficult for me because the theme was a concept of Judaism. Not being Jewish, I had a hard time clearly understanding the subtleties of ‘tikku olam.’ I worried that if I misconstrued ‘tikkun olam’, I might inadvertently offend my Jewish friends. In an effort to make sure I didn’t completely mess this up, I consulted a friend, @melisalw, using her as a sounding board. This piece was my second attempt and it received a thumbs up. (You are the best Melisa!). Any interpretation mistakes are mine alone.