I keep a list of experiences - things I want to share with you in future posts. But this month, nothing on the list felt right. I went through what I think every writer must go through - not knowing what to say. Then something happened. It wasn't a miracle. It wasn't magic. It was just a moment. A moment of beautiful kindness and generosity from three complete strangers. And it helped me remember that that's where this all started.
When I began writing these stories in 2015, they were exclusively about poignant encounters with strangers, and I can't help but think that maybe right now, that is the story we all need to hear, and maybe that's why I experienced this at the precise moment I was wondering what I should write, so here you go - for old time's sake and today's sake and life's sake - a fleeting connection:
I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Or, to be more precise, I live in the tiny northwest quarter of the neighborhood - just across the bridge from Queens.
It's a wonderful quarter - my favorite one. There's the coffee shop where everyone knows my name, the bakery with the most delicious lavender shortbread you've ever tasted, the view of the steeple a few blocks south, Duke's Liquor Box where the owner - Patrick - always pours you a shot and tells you the whiskey's story. There's the river and the Manhattan skyline to the west, and my tiny studio apartment that I found through a sequence of events I can only describe as fate. This is my home.
Also in this cozy northwest quarter, there's a homeless shelter. I often hear rumors of drug deals and gun shots, but mainly, I just witness groups of men loitering, drinking, and smoking on the sidewalk.
Sometimes they holler at me. Sometimes they follow me. Sometimes they just say good morning. But regardless of what they say and do, I've learned - like every woman in New York - to keep my head down, stay silent, and just keep walking.
In my time in New York, I've been cornered by men in stores, I've been followed through the park, and I've had a long pole stuck up my skirt in broad daylight while walking with a friend. Plenty of men on the street are harmless. Plenty are going to talk to you but do nothing else. But enough are dangerous that you learn to expect the worst.
Then, last Friday, I went into my favorite little gourmet cheese shop just two blocks from my apartment. I got a quart of milk, a baguette, and some brie-like cheese called Moses Sleeper. I was in a sour mood for no real reason, and the prospect of going home and spreading the cheese on the baguette was enough to make me smile. The cashier placed the items in a white paper bag, and I carried it by the handle as I walked out the door.
The sidewalk was covered in Thursday's snow - save for a narrow path of concrete that had been cleared by the weight of many steps. I carefully walked along without any problems, but then, all of the sudden, I felt everything inside the bag drop to the ground. I looked down and saw the milk, bread, and cheese on the slushy sidewalk surface.
I stood between the snow and discarded Christmas trees and stared at the massive rip in the paper bag. I let out an exasperated sigh, but before I even got the chance to lean over and try to pick something up, three men swooped in.
They spoke quickly to each other, coordinating their course of action as they picked up all my things and emptied a piece of fruit from a small plastic bag they were carrying. They put my things inside their bag and gave it to me with all my groceries saved and secured.
Are you okay?, they asked.
Yeah, I'm okay. Thank you. Thank you so much.
No problem, they told me, and they went on their way.
I walked the rest of the way home, thinking how these were some of the same men I often see loitering, men I typically perceive as a threat, men I do everything in my power to ignore, but they didn't hesitate to help me.
I got home and removed my wet snow shoes, cleaned the slush off the bottom of the milk carton, and spread some cheese on a few slices of the baguette.