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The kindness of strangers

BY KATE WALTER | Talk about the kindness of strangers. On Saturday, April 11, I posted on the bulletin board app Nextdoor that I was looking to buy computer paper locally. 

Of course, I can order from Amazon but delivery takes a while. Staples is a long walk and I stopped taking the bus.

This woman answered that she had paper in her apartment and she’d be happy to give it to me. So I walked over to a building on Bleecker Street, and this woman I never met came downstairs and dropped two reams of high-quality printer paper into my tote bag.

I felt so grateful. I was down to my last 10 sheets of paper. Now I had 1,000. She said she was glad it would go to good use.

The next day, Sunday, April 12, I left my apartment in Westbeth and walked to D’Ag’s on the corner to buy The New York Times. The masked cashier was really friendly. She wished me Happy Easter. I wished her the same, thanked her and left.

Last year, I took the bus across town to the East Village for an incredible service at Middle Collegiate Church on Second Avenue. The altar was filled with lilies. The pews were packed, everyone clapping and swaying as the choirs blasted out a rocking version of the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s “Messiah.”

This year, I watched the service live-streamed. The digital team did a great job, pulling up music from the archive and creating new music by patching in singers and organists performing in their apartments. We wished each other Happy Easter in the chat box. Reverend Jacqui Lewis, the pastor, read the gospel and preached about “the time between the now and the not yet.”

Normally, I returned from church and took the subway to the Port Authority, where I got the bus to Wayne, New Jersey. Then someone from my family would pick me up. This was the first time in my life I would not share Easter dinner at my sister’s house with my large extended Catholic family.

My sister has nine grandkids and always organized an Easter egg hunt in her backyard. When I got there I’d help hide the plastic eggs. She bought different colors for each grandkid. Dinner was spectacular — a big ham with candied yams, creamed cauliflower, asparagus and salmon for those who didn’t eat meat. Special dishes for the vegans and the gluten-free.

This year I was eating Easter dinner alone. I had scored fresh flounder from the Greenmarket at Abingdon Square, where I stood on line 6 feet apart from my neighbors.

My sister texted that she and her husband were having Easter dinner for two.

“Who could have ever imagined this?” she wrote.

“It’s like science fiction but it’s reality,” I texted back.

I feel like we’ve gotten closer during this crisis.

Easter morning, my sister sent me a new recording by her daughter, Patty, who has a gorgeous voice. I hit play and heard my niece singing a cappella “This Is the Day the Lord Has Made. Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad.” 

As her sweet, clear soprano echoed through my Westbeth loft, I was moved to tears. The last time I saw my niece was on Christmas when she sang “O Holy Night.” When will I see my family again in person?

My nieces sent photos of their kids with their Easter baskets. And that evening we had a 45-minute family get-together on Google with people living in four states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

……..

I am touched by how people are helping in their own ways. Research has shown that when you help people, you feel good about yourself, creating what’s known as helper’s high.

I donated money so that Taim and Westville West, two of my favorite local restaurants, could feed the healthcare workers at Lenox Health Greenwich Village, and so the restaurants can stay in business. Others are donating to funds for laid-off workers at local restaurants. Or they’re giving money so healthcare providers can have PPE.

Many people are making masks. My friend Michele, a fellow writer, gave me a cool mask she created on her sewing machine. She was offering them free on Nextdoor. The Westbeth Beautification Committee is sewing masks, available free to residents and home attendants.

I’ve expanded my exercise routine thanks to the many teachers who have produced free or low-cost programs with specific exercises for the pandemic. I’ve done yoga for years, but I’ve now discovered some yoga moves for immune health. I’ve also learned qi gong breathing to strengthen my lungs and my immunity.

I studied qi gong in the ’80s when I lived in the East Village. Who knew I would be calling it up again? So I start my day with 20 minutes of qi gong breathing and then I take out my yoga mat. I’m grateful that I already had tools I can use during this time of crisis. For years, I’ve meditated every morning and tried to eat organic and whole foods.

As a writer who lives alone, I’m used to a solitary lifestyle. The problem right now is I don’t have any companionship. I can’t see my friends or family. I can’t go down to the community room and sing with the Bliss Singers. I can’t go to an opening in the Westbeth gallery. I can’t chat with another resident in the lobby.

On the occasions when I do run into a neighbor on the sidewalk, our eyes connect above our masks and we say hello, from a distance.

“Hey, did you see that Jenny won a Guggenheim?” I called to a Westbeth neighbor who teaches in the same N.Y.U. school as I do.

“Yeah, that’s great,” she replied.

I flashed back to us laughing at the holiday party and sharing a cab back to our building. Now I wondered if my class scheduled for the fall will meet in person. Will anyone even have the money to spend on creative writing classes?

But September seems far away at this point. I’m just living from day to day, from week to week, living between the now and the not yet. I’m trying to stay healthy and focus on the good that is out there, like the kindness of strangers.

4 Comments

  1. Dr Eileen Dr Eileen April 14, 2020

    Lovely article, Kate! Amen! One of the most therapeutic things we can do to counteract feelings of powerlessness is to empower ourselves by focusing on helping others. Sharing our resources and extending kindness to others in need is a very powerful emotional antidote to isolation and fear. So let the “covid-idiots” hoard their toilet paper, and let’s focus on sharing and helping each other during this difficult time.

    “Adversity introduces a man to himself” – Albert Einstein

  2. Linda Kowalski Linda Kowalski April 14, 2020

    Love you Kate! Time for people to sit back, enjoy what is around them, and enjoy being with themselves.

  3. Judine Jacobs Judine Jacobs April 15, 2020

    Dear Kate,
    Your Easter story is so true to this world. Plans to have family here for a delicious ham dinner, sweet potatoes, salad and delicious desserts. Then later hiding the Easter baskets are a memory of what could have been. Instead, our thoughts and prayers are focused on the families who are grieving and the first responders who are the Champions for our days.
    Thank you, Judine

  4. Michele Michele April 24, 2020

    Nice piece, Kate. And thanks a million for the shout-out.

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