The Wreckage

Mom’s and Dad’s house is empty of the objects that made it our home.  In fact, worse — the built-ins have been torn down with the most ginormous crowbar and sit as wreckage in the living room. 

The apartment looks like sullied shambles of an ordinary place. 

But it isn’t ordinary.  It is where our young lives happened and generations argued and celebrated, laughed and cried, welcomed new life and mourned those who died. 

And it is ok that realtors fix a value to a life-battered, empty, and unrenovated space.  The price is what the market will bear.  Memories don’t add value.  How could they?  They are only priceless and unique to us who lived them.  And those memories — the love and hurts and pain and epiphanies (few) — don’t live there.  They live in the three of us — my siblings and me.

So, on Saturday, as we schlepped the last boxes of slides and books that HOSOB (husband of sister of blogger) so lovingly packed up, POB (partner of blogger) asked me if I wanted to take down the mezzuzah on the doorpost of house.

I couldn’t.  At the time, I didn’t understand my visceral “nooooooo!”

Later, I realized that removing the mezzuzah was the final, symbolic gesture that would transform my parents’ home to a vacant apartment up for sale.

But, at the time, I knew it was too much for me to bear.  And too much to do alone.  It was a moment that needed all of us kids to do.

So, I will wait for SOB (sister of blogger).  Next weekend, she and I, with our brother on the phone, will take down the mezzuzah.  We, three.  Together. 

And, we, three, together, will close a chapter. 

Sounds of Silence

I don’t usually wear headphones in the subway and I try not to look at my emails or texts.  I like to be “in the moment” with the chaos and the subhuman conditions of the New York transit system.

It was Friday evening around 7pm. Maybe the slog of a week of work, the intense cold, the endless winter, the bleakness of the gray-black ice still on the streets were heavy on most of the passengers in the subway car.

Those are my guesses, but I don’t really know why the West Side 96th Street station was quiet and the subway car, too, was quiet.  Silent, actually.  I could feel the silence because I was not connected by headphones to another reality.

It was a rare moment of peace in the City That Never Sleeps (or Shuts Up).  In fact, it was a cosmic anomaly.

And then this bubble of peace was punctured by a man with a nervous laugh and a too-loud voice saying to his co-worker (I was following the thread since 42nd Street), “It is literally so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.  Where did that saying come from?  The quiet is freaking me out a little.” [screechy giggle followed by senseless ramblings.]

Actually, dude, it wasn’t quiet anymore.  But your interruption of it made it so much sweeter by the contrast.

And the co-worker you were hitting on isn’t interested.  Just sayin’.

Shirley Hirsch z”l (1925-2014)

Shirley could have been in the New York Times year-end edition of the Lives They Lived.  As a tale of lost and found.

She was born into a poor immigrant family and was, as they used to say, “not quite right”.  After her father died (her mother died in childbirth with her younger sister), she was put into a public-assisted halfway house system.  She was thereafter “dead” as far as the family — her surviving siblings — was concerned.  Ultimately, she ended up in a public assistance psychiatric nursing home.

One of her nephews discovered her existence 60 or more years later and began, with his wife, visiting her.  Through their interest and kindness, she spoke for the first time in decades.  And she kept talking, but not like a made-for-TV movie — it was intelligible, although often guttural.

**************************************************************************************************************

We buried Shirley today.  Forgive the non-adherence to the Jewish 24-hour burial rule, but her nephew only found out two years ago that he was Jewish (for another blog) and is trying to integrate that knowledge into his otherwise Christian life.

In most other respects, we followed Jewish tradition.

The usual litany of readings and meditations didn’t fit this particular situation.  I talked with my cousins about what we would say about Shirley during the graveside service.

My cousin showed me the poem he wrote.  There were no better words.  Rest in peace, dear Shirley.  We will remember you.

For Shirley:

She a little left
a little different
and we a little right
perhaps indifferent
but was it right
to let a loved one
cling fast
to family long past?
we forgot that past
while she forgot this present

Finally we unlocked the door
and dove right in
to days left behind
all day into the night
hiding in plain sight
We found each other
Surely we were ignorant
but we were not
we ran away from each other
and surely that was not right

Reunited, we clung fast
she managed soft whispers
of that past long gone
we hung on every word
as we held onto her hand
soaking in precious moments
making up that lost time
when we went left
and she went right
a family come full circle

and surely this is right.

Amen.

New Year’s Day in the Coffee Shop of the Undead

Ah, life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is, well, hanging by a string.

Back story: http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5641; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4858; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5701; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4435

Maybe not life, as much as sanity.  Ok, not sanity so much as functional insanity.  Life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is measured by the functionality of those with dementia and other neurological disorders.

I guess it is also measured by physical compromise.  If you aren’t crazy, then you are most likely so enfeebled that, if you make it to the place from your house, you (actually, your home health aide) should do a victory lap around the (tiny) place.

So where else would Dad go to see his friends?  Regardless of Dad’s daily level of crazy, which hit the nuclear contamination levels today, he tips his hat to the elders already seated.  For over 50 years, some of them were just passersby on the street, but now that they are the surviving remnant, they acknowledge each other.  Others, like Marty and Joan (the kids of the group at mid-to-late 70s) get a real greeting.  Dad reserves the warmest greeting for Sam, his old friend.

But Sam wasn’t at lunch today. Always a worrisome sign.  Sam has Alzheimer’s and some other dementia diagnoses, but like any disease, he can function some days and not others.

After we left the coffee shop, we bumped into Sam just outside.  (I am grateful that Dad and he have known each other for so long that, even with his mental disease, he recognizes Dad (and us)).

We greet Sam.

Sam says, “I have some very bad news.  I was going to call.”

SOB and I hold our breaths.  Is it his companion, Norma?  Is it his ex-wife? His daughter? His granddaughter?

Sam continues.  “My brain is not working so well.  I have issues now.”

SOB and I exhale at the same time.  THIS IS NOT NEWS. EVEN TO SAM.  HE JUST CAN’T REMEMBER THAT IT ISN’T NEWS.

Dad — even with his nuclear-level dementia today — didn’t miss a beat, “if you would like company, we will come over or, food, we can bring it over.”

SOB and I marvel at the way Dad can summon the man he was for a friend in need. 

The man he was.  The totally addled man he is.  They live side-by-side in the same body.

That is why it is so hard to handle the bad days.

Because there will be good moments to give a child hope.

And then, a moment later, the child wonders where her daddy has gone.

 

Magnetic

If you were to read my blog entries over the past years (don’t, really), you would know that my siblings and I have taken care of the elderly of our family, in all stages of life, death and that gray area in between.

We have found people collapsed in their homes, held their hands as they died, negotiated for access into their homes, slipped past police tape, found blood heirs because — while they were our relatives in love, mind and time — at their deaths, they were strangers as a matter of law.  (Love matters in life; legal papers matter in death.)

I have surrendered firearms, repatriated funds from unnamed accounts, and taken those suffering from acute dementia and paranoia to psychiatric wards and held their hands through the process.

Aging is a nasty business.

These experiences must emanate from my being.  Sometimes I think that there is a magnet implanted in my forehead in the shape of S.

S as in SCHMUCK

How do I know, you ask.  Thank you for that segue.

Just last week, I was on the phone (being all important, OF COURSE) and another call comes in.  I can tell it is an internal call, because the name flashes up.  I get an email from my assistant that someone from one of our Florida offices asked that I call back (instead of the usual: “oh I will just email her”).  I have never heard of the person so I look her up as I am dialing her back.  She works in the records department in another office so I cannot imagine why she is calling me.  No way our paths would have crossed.  I have never been to our Florida offices and it is not likely that she traveled to the New York office.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Cindy, this is [Blogger] returning your call.  How can I help you?”

“Thanks for calling back.  My brother died yesterday in New York and I need some advice.  Because he was relatively young, the police have cordoned off his apartment.”

Really, you are kidding me.  Someone with whom I have never possibly crossed paths knows to call me when there is a death in the family.  And a messy death, at that.

MY SCHMUCK MAGNET IS SO STRONG, IT DRAWS PEOPLE FROM ALMOST THE SOUTHERNMOST POINT OF THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.

And what is crazier?  I actually have experience in this.  Because I had an aunt who. . . . blah blah blah.

I offer advice, not as a lawyer but as a family member who went through this.  Her brother and she were not close, at all.  She wants it all to go away.

Days go by.  I email Cindy and ask about everything.

She types back:  “Oh, yeah.  He is really dead.  There is some lawyer handling this. Thanks.”

Soooooo many things wrong with that.  The obvious ones are too good to pass up:

  • of course, he is [still] dead.
  • I am invested in the outcome, but
  • in the span of three days, she has moved on.

Me? I am still in freeze frame in my own Law and Order episode.

I deserve the magnet.  But, it may be that I am the one who gets sucked in.

The truths about roller coaster rides.

The first truth about roller coaster rides is that it can be scary, exhilarating, fun and vomit-inducing, but, at its end, it delivers you to its starting point and you wobble out onto terra firma.

The second truth is that you don’t need to go to an amusement park to ride one.

Thursday began like any other day.  I was late getting to the office for a call with opposing counsel. I didn’t even try to blame the trains.  I emailed him on my subway ride to push back the call 15 minutes.

When I get out of the subway, I receive a text from Dad’s home health aide (HHA).

“Have your sister call me immediately.”

My sister, SOB (sister of blogger] is a doctor.  This is not good.  I call SOB immediately.

SOB, it’s [Blogger], call HHA immediately.  She just texted that she needs to speak with you.  Call me after you speak to her.”

I am shaking.  Is this the day?  I don’t exactly remember the walk to my office.  But as I start to turn on my computer, my ringing cell phone snaps me back.

“It’s [SOB], HHA had to call 911 because Dad is basically non-responsive.”

Is this the day that Dad dies?

SOB and I know that we have to run to Dad’s house before anyone takes him to a hospital, so we can evaluate the situation.  He is almost 94 years old and has told us, again and again, that he wants to die in his bed.  And, unless there was acute pain or discomfort to relieve, being in a hospital is only torture for a person his age.  Old age is old age.  This is not a curable condition.  It is a fact of life.

I run part of the way there.  SOB is still in traffic.   I look at Dad.  He is now alert and comfortable on the gurney.  He knows me and seems relieved I am there.  He has no pain but looks so tired.  He smiles as he does when family walks into the room.  Our embrace is awkward because he is on a gurney.

“Dad, [SOB] is coming any minute and we will figure out whether you need to go to the hospital.”

“Yes, darling.  Let’s wait for [SOB].”

The EMTs tell me all his vitals are good.  Apparently, Dad slumped over at breakfast and HHA couldn’t rouse him.  She literally lifted him and had him lean on her while she got him to his bed in his bedroom.  The EMTs said he was non-responsive when they got there but with a little rubbing on his sternum, he started to wake up.

Dad hovered between life and death and came back to life.

So, TODAY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE DAY.  Still, the crisis isn’t over until the EMTs unstrap Dad from the gurney and they leave his house.

And Dad had mentioned heart disease, so the EMTs want to take him to the hospital.

“Dad is in mild heart failure.  Who isn’t at almost 94?  There is heart disease in his family, but he takes no medications, except an evening scotch.”

And then Dad says:

“They might not get paid if they came all this way and don’t come back with a patient.”

The EMTs smile.  They understand that my father wants to do the honorable thing.  They are also a little confused by his seeming clarity in one moment and his dementia in another. The EMTs wait for SOB to arrive (G-d bless professional courtesy).

Then Dad said:

“Before we go anywhere, I have to say goodbye to my wife.” 

The EMTs look at me and look at HHA, who is 50 years his junior.

“NO, NO, NO,” I say.  “Look at the wall.  See the painting?  That is Mom in 1967.  He needs to say good-bye to HER.”

341279902308_0_ALBOMG OMG OMG.  This still could be the day.  Oh, SHIT.

The EMTs were fabulous.  One was a little circumspect, probing about my knowledge of Dad’s medical and mental state.  I appreciated his concern and we walked a little away from Dad.

“Look, my father has been exceptionally healthy his whole life.  He is at the end of his life.  If he is not in pain or gasping, why would I want newly minted doctors (it IS July, after all) poking and prodding him?  But, let’s wait for the real doctor, my sister.”

Then that EMT starts to test my knowledge of Jewish culture and Yiddishkeit. The Blogger family name is stereotypically Jewish.  And he was testing me to figure out if I understood the Commandment to honor my father and my mother.

SOB walks in and consults with the EMTs.  Then she says to both of them:

“Last time he was in a hospital, it was for a brain bleed resulting from tripping on the sidewalk.  Although he was in neuro ICU and was watched by a private nurse, he got out of bed twice and fell both times.  Since then he wanders.  A hospital is not a safe place for him.  He has terrific 24 hour care at home.  And my sister and I are each a cab ride away.”

Both EMTs understood.  The circumspect EMT (who turned out to be an observant Jew) was more comfortable when we knew some Yiddish and when we told him that we had been through this drill before and we had tended to our mother in her dying days.

He said, “We have to call the supervisor.  I fear Hashem [G-d], my wife, gobblins and my supervisor, and your dad said he wanted to go to the hospital before you both arrived.

“I get that.  Make yourselves to home.  Can we give you something to drink or eat?”

The observant Jew demurred.  The other EMT said, his wife packs food.  So I asked, “you fear both your wife and Ha-Shem on this score.”  He nodded.

The EMTs and Dad start to talk.  They ask how he feels.

“It is the end.”

“End of what, sir?”

“The end of my life.”

Those words hang in the air, until interrupted by the arrival of the supervisor.  The supervisor calls the doctor on duty.  Everyone groans.

“What’s wrong with this doctor?” I ask, thinking the nightmare has just begun.

“He’s been sued a lot.  He will want to enforce transport to the hospital.”

WAIT. WAIT. I have power of attorney.  My sister has health proxy.  We, and our 24/7 nursing care, take excellent care of Dad.  We see him all of the time.  We know his wishes, his medical history and, hell, what he eats in the diner and what he hates in a museum.  We speak to him everyday and see him every weekend.  Dad has told us what he wants and he trusts us.  And we love him.

DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT HE WASN’T AFRAID ANYMORE WHEN HIS CHILDREN ARRIVED?  THAT HE PERKED UP? HOW CAN THIS DOCTOR OVER THE PHONE ENFORCE THE TRANSPORT TO THE HOSPITAL?

Well, he did.  SOB and I would not stand for it.  Dad was sitting in a chair talking and feeling comfortable.  He didn’t need to go to the hospital.

“Call the doctor back. NOW!”

At this point the EMTs are rooting for keeping Dad home.  And I was ready to name Dr. [Blank] in a lawsuit.  After the doctor spoke to Dad, he asked to speak to the daughter who is the lawyer. NOT THE DAUGHTER WHO IS THE DOCTOR.  This is some paranoid dude.

“Yes, Dr. [Blank}.”

“Ms. [Blogger], BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH” – I made the universal hari kari sign so everyone in the room could feel my pain — “Your father could have any number of issues.”

“Dr. [Blank], he is almost 94 years old.  Can any of those potential issues be prevented by a hospital visit today? We can agree that the answer is no.  And you have our family’s thanks for not compelling transport to a hospital.  I appreciate your advice on guardianship.  Thank you, doctor.”

The EMTs cheer the outcome.  We hugged one EMT and I said to the observant Jew, “I won’t hug you or shake your hand, but I would if you weren’t observant.”

“Thank you.  In this case, I fear my wife first.  Hashem, second.”

SMART MAN, THAT EMT.

All non-essential personnel left.  I went out to get pizza for everyone.  To celebrate success after the two hours that felt like ten.  We ate.  We all sacked out for an hour.

SOB went into Dad’s bedroom to check on him.  He was glad that he stayed at home.  He was glad to have his children around and he felt loved and supported by all of his children, even though our brother lives far away.  He told SOB what a lucky man he is and what a good life he has had.  The drift toward the inevitable is beginning.

We all got up a kibbitzed.  Soon it was cocktail hour.

“Dad,” SOB started, “there needs to be a new rule in the usual [Blogger family] protocol in these circumstances:  If ambulance comes, no scotch at cocktail hour.”

Dad wasn’t so ok with it.  So I had to draw it from him.  The new addition to our protocol:

IF AMBULANCE,

THEN

58128Dad fought it tooth and nail and enjoyed the tussle with his kids.  He was present in a way he is not usually.  His mind was more clear (but still out there).  He was a little pale, but he survived.

The day turned out to be a great day, because:

We met wonderful people — the EMTs — who care about the people they help.

And, Death took a holiday of sorts for our family.

SOB and I stagger off the roller coaster.  The ride was rough but everyone survived. 

Saturday in the Park . . . .

I have been pretty overwhelmed by life and responsibility.

Then, as if from on high (ok, via cell phone), comes a booming voice:

“I read your blogs.  I have a few comments:  Schmuck, you are 50. Count them, I will wait.  [No waiting time] Ok, I will bottom-line it for you.  50 years old.  Are you going to spend the next decade in the dumps?  Because your father will live that long.  You know he will —”

“But,” trying to get in a word, “there was AROB and ULOB and —-“

“Done.  They are gone.  It is hard to clean up after people who are dead.  But you are not hurting them by selling their stuff and doing whatever you have to do. It is a job.”

Pause.  I am trying hard not to shriek, “You don’t f&^*ing understand!  It has been toooooo much these past two years!!!” But I didn’t.

I did seethe, however.  And think about my martyrdom.  I felt sooooo self-righteous.  And then I remembered I was Jewish and there is no sainthood.

And, then, I thought:  Really, [Blogger]? Are you kidding me?

Martyrdom? 

MARTYRDOM? 

MARTYRDOM?

Do ya read the newspapers?  [NOW, I am calling myself, schmuck.]

I stopped.  Mostly because I exhausted myself, even without uttering a word. And, I was letting stuff get me down which, if I stopped for a little perspective, is hard but so life-affirming.  I was getting stuck in a quagmire of details and legal issues and I forgot to be grateful for the lives my elders lived and my part in making those lives happy and secure at the most vulnerable times.

But, perspective can be tiresome and short-lived, especially if one is a self-indulgent, overly-consumptive New Yorker.  (Oops, that would be I.)

Still, even I couldn’t shake the idea that I need to think differently about a situation that isn’t going to change (until the BIG change).  Saturday was such a sunny beautiful day that it was hard to feel sad.

I decided walking to Dad’s house for lunch (at the you-know-where) was just the thing to put me in a good mood.

I walked the three or so miles there, through the city streets and Central Park.

It didn’t start out so well.

I heard a woman ranting at her boyfriend (possibly fiancé) about how much money he gives to his dead-beat dad.  The man didn’t even utter a word.  She just kept on responding to his unspoken answers.

I wanted to scream. Oh, please, shut up.  Did you ask what he gets out of it and what pain he avoids by doing this, even though you say he doesn’t want to give his dad money?

I heard two joggers disagree about whether helmets save lives.

Ok, thought for the day: it may or it may not, but what the hell, wear it.  I couldn’t hurt.

OK, this walk in the Park thing is — how shall I say it — no walk in the park.

Then, I heard one biker, who apparently had been cut off by another biker, yell, “Youw mothah is a man!!!” [English translation: your mother is quite unattractive.]

So unexpected in a City where, in fact, his mother could have transitioned from, or to, a man.  Such a throwback comment, ripped right from the urban playground where we born-and-bred New Yorkers cut our teeth in the 1960s and 70s.

I don’t know why, but I laughed so hard.  Maybe because it was a different kind of nostalgia — ludicrous one and so out-dated.  And the laughter made the sun felt brighter and warmer.  And I hummed all the way to Dad’s house, even skipping a little.

I think I will try to walk to Dad’s as many times as I can.

What’s in Your Wallet?

On Friday, I found a wallet on a New York City bus.  Money still in it.  Driver’s license. VISA card. Debit card.  Picture of Jesus.

I called the VISA card company and reported the now-found, but previously lost, wallet.  And I gave my name and number so that man could call me and we could arrange to meet so I could give him back his wallet.

This man has an out-of-state driver’s license  — and I don’t mean New Jersey.  The state was clear across the country.  What if he cannot get home because he has no ID with which to board the plane?  I felt bad for this man I did not know as I imagined how unnerved he must be not to have the contents of his wallet.

After a few hours of not hearing from the man, I started to go through his wallet more fully.  It felt ooky.  His wallet told a confusing story.  Why two NYC metro cards? Why so many New York-related business cards?  They were not new cards; they had frayed edges.  And a New York State health insurance card.

At least it was clear that the resolution would NOT be sending the wallet to the address listed on his driver’s license.

All of the detective shows started rushing through my head, complete with Law and Order music. Except this was nothing so dramatic.  I was not searching for a missing person, just a person who was missing his wallet.

Next course of action?  Social media.  That scourge and blessing.

I found him.  He does, in fact, live in New York.  I sent messages to him through various social media outlets.

On Saturday, he responded and we talked. I told him I also called the debit card company to report the lost card and there was still money in the wallet.  He seemed happy and relieved.

We arranged to meet on Sunday.  He brought his wife, and two kids with him, so they could all thank me.  He was in his early thirties and she was younger.  I was introduced to his son as the “person that Mommy and Daddy had prayed for” and the wife was grateful to God that I used my “lawyer mind” to figure out how to find them.  (She had asked my profession.)

“So, you aren’t from around here, are you?”  I asked with a smile on my face.

“We are not.  We did not think that we would ever get the wallet back, here in New York City.”

Oy.  Oy.  Oy.

“Well, as someone born and raised here, I think you will find as many good and kind people here as anywhere else.”

SILENCE.  Did they want this to be Sodom or Gommorrah?  And raise kids here?

“How can we thank you?”

“You seem like a lovely family and kind people.  That is thanks enough.  All the best to you.”  And I shook their hands and we parted.

Back into our separate worlds.  Because strangers don’t have to become friends.  And not every chance meeting needs to be a religious and cultural enrichment moment.  We, strangers and friends, just have to watch out for each other sometimes.

Social Security

Contrary to what our “rugged individualists” and Tea Partiers say, relying on social security is a little like being on death row.  You just never know when the Great Machine will stop payments and you will die in the streets.  Ok, it IS different.  On death row, the Great Machine actually kills you.

I had to go to the Social Security Administration the other day to get a replacement 1099 for ULOB.  I walked in, without an appointment, and was stunned by the stench, the number of humans and the number of crippling ailments in this vast room.  I immediately thought that this could be in a scene in the streets of Calcutta or Mumbai.

I spoke to the security guard, who told me I was in luck!  For replacement 1099s I got to go a different floor, to a quieter room.  As I got onto the elevator, I held the door for two people who could not stand up straight or walk without assistance.  They were indigent, in bad health, and had atrophied limbs.

I got off at my floor and walked into a room with upbeat and helpful security guards and less people.  Still the intermittent, pungent wafts of air made me want to faint.  There, as I soon understood, slightly demented people sat waiting for information.  Some, frankly, had no where to go and wanted to ask hypothetical questions, which were met by screams from the Social Security Administration staff who stood behind bullet-proof glass.  Although doctors and hospitals cannot give out medical information without violating a myriad of laws, everything is OUT LOUD and PROUD at the SSA office.  Or, OUT LOUD, anyway.

After many hours, it was finally my turn and I presented my uncle’s death certificate, my letters of administration and my driver’s license and asked for a 1099 for his social security income so I could finish his final tax returns.  The lady behind the bullet proof glass looked at me, looked at my papers, looked at me, did stuff on her computer, looked at me and then got up.  Uh oh, I thought.  But she walked over to the printer, brought back a piece of paper, stamped it and said, “here you go.”

It was the 1099!!!  I thanked her for a most enjoyable experience with government.  I even thanked the nice security guard.

I told this story tonight to someone who is an advocate for the indigent and the sick.  What was a funny story became less so because all of a sudden I realized that I sailed through the morass (relatively) quickly, but there are some people who are stuck in that vortex, deserving of aid but without the right paperwork necessary for the vast governmental program.

Yet without social security, even more indigent and tragically maimed people would be on the streets.  And our cities would be indistinguishable from Calcutta or Mumbai.  And then all of America would see what our nation would look like without social security.  And then we wouldn’t think of our nation as the nation of the able-bodied and young and fearless.

We would know that social security is to protect our most vulnerable, our tragically ill, as well as our seniors.

When I looked at the mass of humanity in that first room I entered (and even in the smaller room), I knew these people cannot be hired, cannot be trained and cannot survive without our society’s help. They are not lazy.  They are just, sadly, not competent.  Even to help themselves get the social security benefits they need to survive.

No one would trade places with these people.  They are not laughing, collecting money off of our hard work and living the high life.

If you believe that every life is valuable (and not just at conception), then you need to believe in social security for those who are physically or mentally or educationally unable to work and support themselves.  Because they are part of us and the American Dream — while some achieve great things (and even fortunes), all our citizens deserve at least an opportunity to live in a clean home with enough food.

This started out in my mind as a funny story of the privileged New Yorker enduring the vagaries of government sponsored programs solely for the purpose of paying taxes on ULOB’s social security benefits.

It turned into a lesson about all the politically invisible people in our society who need us.

Let us not turn away from them.

There, but for the grace of G-d, go I

About a week ago, SOS asked me, “why don’t we give to people who ask for money on the street?”

Oh, no, time for a lesson in cynicism.

“Well, buddy, we don’t know if they really need money and, if they do, are they using the money to buy drugs or food?  I used to give to everyone and then I realized the hard lesson that some people are not being truthful.”

My answer did not sit well with me at all.  I kept thinking that children will heal the world unless their parents interfere and fill their minds with cynicism.

We were doing errands yesterday.

“Hey, bud.  Remember the conversation that we had about giving to people on the streets?  Well, I want to talk more about it.  We give to charities that help these people.  We are willing to pay more in taxes for social programs and we go door to door to help get out the vote for people who will institute these programs.  But it doesn’t mean that a particular person will be helped, just that we will make inroads in resolving the problem.”

“Ok,” was SOS’s non-committal answer.

Sometimes, kids ask those questions that make you think about all the juicy rationalizations that make your life livable with a more-or-less clear conscience.

And my easy, arm chair liberal answers didn’t sit well with me either.

I should have said, “I don’t have time to get down and dirty with strangers.  I can’t get involved and take on every person’s broken life.  And Darwin is right.”

There.  I said it. (to you and not to my son)

Last night, I could not sleep.  As crazy as it sounds, I kept thinking about Rabbi Hillel: if I am only for myself, who will be for me?

Being homeless is my number 1 neurotic fear.  And yet I told my son that it was ok to look away when you see the homeless.

During my sleepless night, all the things that I should have done, shouldn’t have done, did, and didn’t do, haunted me.

Tonight, the three of us had an early sushi dinner. We picked the closest Japanese restaurant because it is beyond cold outside.

We were on our way back from eating lots of sushi and dropping a lot of money on dinner.

As we crossed onto our block, I saw a mother with an elementary school-aged child taking recyclables out of the trash cans.  They had a cart like the homeless.  To be honest, I have never seen homeless Asians.  It was 7pm and that child should be home.

I told POB and SOS to go ahead up to the house.  I had to go back.  I needed to make sure the girl had a warm coat, gloves and a hat (she did) and that they weren’t going to spend the night outside.  I went over to the mother, “do you have a place to stay tonight?”  She didn’t understand and was a little afraid.  I must have been very earnest in my question.  “Do you have a place to stay tonight?”  I repeated.  I would have given them money for the night, if only because it would mean strength to fight another day and rest for a child before a school day.

Pause.  She smiled.  “Yes. Yes. Yes.  We have a home.  Thank you.  Happy new year!!”

I smiled and walked away.  And I wondered, was she telling me the truth or protecting her pride?

I won’t ever know.

What I do know is that my child pushed me to be more than I was yesterday.

God bless the child.