New York City, July 1999.
It’s a zillion degrees in the subway tunnel that takes me from my beloved west side to the la-di-da east side. It’s not a happy trip. It’s a trip that’s taking me to Beth Israel hospital. More specifically the AIDS ward where my blood-brother is really sick. Emerging from the tunnel I get that summer-scratch-‘n-sniff experience wafting into my nose and that assault of sirens piercing my eardrums. “Bomb scare!” someone announces. “Business as usual!” someone quips. The city keeps pulsing and I keep walking.
When I get to his room, Robby’s watching “I Love Lucy” on TV. He’s happy for a change. He’s laughing. He’s got a hankering for a Big Mac and I run downstairs and pick up a huge McDonald’s spread. It includes four Happy Meals, maybe because of the toys, maybe because of the title. I always buy too much food because I’m cramming the next 40 years into the next few months. We spread the food all over the bed and we pretend we’re on a picnic. We reminisce about our trip cross-country. We scream with laughter at our childhood tree house. We sing a Beatles song.
I climb into the bed with him and hold his shivering body as his temperature soars and his mind goes with it. We make it through the night, often in ten-minute chunks. The morning comes and so does the doctor. Oh, oh. He’s got that two-weeks-to-live look on his face. He says just that.
My world collapses. I can’t breathe. It’s dark and it’s 9:00 in the morning. There are screams and I’m not sure where they’re coming from. Robby fixates on his cat and makes me go home to feed Freddie. I stumble down the hall. Grown men are crying. I feel as though I’m in bedlam in the 1860’s.
I race down the subway stairs into the morning rush hour. I’m pushed along with the crush of bodies. And then I see it. A woman pushes a baby stroller to the precipice of the plummeting staircase. A man, without losing a beat, picks up the front end and carries baby and stroller down, down, down to the bottom. He goes his way, she goes hers. What? They don’t even know each other? I’m stopped in my tracks… on the tracks…by a Random Act of Kindness.
I feel a tickle and a sneeze in my heart. Look! There’s a club footy man with braces and packages. Without losing a beat, three people give up their seats to make room for his extra needs . Look! There are three strong men holding the train doors open for a co-ed. Ok THAT one I can understand! But my point is this. On a very normal day, in a very loony city, surrounded by very busy strangers I witness 2.5 Random Acts of Kindness.
New York City, October 2001
It’s two years later and fall in Manhattan. Amidst all the madness, I sit on the steps in front of Lincoln Center. I’ve got Chagall over my right shoulder and trees bursting with color in front of me. I’ve got a coffee in one hand and I’m puffing a perfectly sinful cigarette with my other. A very pregnant lady struggles with a rolly-cart that keeps tipping over. Someone helps her. RAK 1 up and it’s only 9:00am. I’m officially in heaven. I call my friend Beth in Los Angeles and explain that I’m having the exact opposite of a mid-life crisis and would she please name it for me. She is the ONLY one in my world who loves words and is truly not anti-semantic. “It’s a mid-life celebration!” rolls off the tip of her tongue. Yes. That’s it! Who can wait for a Happy Ending? I celebrate the Happy Middle!
The day Robby died was a Very No Good Horrible Day. The day the planes hit the World Trade Center was a Very No Good Horrible Day. But I tell you this with a tickle and a sneeze in my heart … I guarantee you this tragedy will turn us into the best versions of ourselves. The Random Acts of Kindness WILL rise from the rubble … and we WILL continue to celebrate.