This is my America

A couple of weeks ago, I had the inconvenient experience of being locked out of my apartment. I was on my way to meet my zany friend from Argentina for a showing of Woody Allen’s Café Society. It’d been a while since I’d seen my friend, so we caught up over coffee and he told me stories about his recent trip back home where he re-connected with his friends and family. The two of us met less than a year ago, but we became fast friends and he feels like family to me now even though he’s Jewish and Argentinian – two things I’m not. This is what I love about New York. This is what I love about our country. It brings people from all walks together and forms bonds that are just as strong a family ties.

After the movie (it was just OK, if you’re wondering) I headed back home. I began to dig for my house key in the lobby of my building and by the time I reached my door, I still couldn’t find it. I dumped the entire contents of my purse on the floor of my hallway and I definitely didn’t have a key. The Super of my building didn’t have a copy either. So, I made the dreaded call to the locksmith and waiting for him to arrive. It was after midnight by that time.

The locksmith arrived. He was a fresh-faced young guy with a sweet smile. He could tell I was tired and wanted to get to bed and was pretty nervous about how much this whole thing was going to set me back. He gently and patiently used his tools to try and pop the lock, but no luck. He explained that the only way he was going to be able to open it was to drill out the locks, take the door off the hinges and replace the locks – a very expensive proposal (nearly $700) that wasn’t in the budget. I decided to wait for my roommate to arrive back from her trip… two days later with the magical key. Thankfully, the locksmith only charged me fifty bucks for the service call.

In the meantime, I contacted my dearest New York City friend to see if she could help me out. She happened to be out of town and without question told me to go to her place, ask her doorman for the key and make myself at home for the next couple of days. She, too, is seemingly different from me – a Jewish, native New Yorker in her fifties. Despite any applied religious labels, despite our age gap, despite our growing up in two different worlds, she is also like family to me.

What happened next came as a huge surprise. The locksmith offered to give me a ride from my place in Brooklyn to my friend’s house on the Upper East Side. It would have easily been a thirty dollars or more cab ride. This was a completely kind gesture on his part, and I took him up on his offer.

During the ride, he shared with me that he’d just opened his locksmith business about six months ago when he moved to New York from Israel. He told me he’d been in the army there…he was a sniper. “I never shot anybody. Ever. Don’t believe what the news feeds you, we aren’t all bad,” he explained. We talked a little bit about the difference between Christianity and Judaism – “We all want the same thing, really. God is good, no matter what word you use,” he said. We hugged and de dropped me off. I spent the next few days in the warm and comfortable home of my friend.

My roommate finally made it back from her trip and, at last, I was able to get into my house. Low on groceries, I made a quick run to the store for some fresh fruit and almond butter. The owner (who I had never met), surprisingly, instructed the cashier to simply give me the items. The cashier bagged them up and said, “These are free for you today.” When I asked why, she told me the owner was always doing that – he especially likes giving away food to little kids. The next day, when I needed to buy a few more items, I went back. To my surprise, the owner came over and again instructed the cashier to only charge me for the apples I was buying. I told him it wasn’t necessary and reminded him that he had been very kind to me just the day before. He then made his way over to the pre-cut fruit section, selected a tray of tropical fruits and put it into my bag. “A gift for you,” he said. I was very perplexed.

We stepped out of the checkout line and over to the produce section to chat. He introduced himself and told me he was from Palestine. He’d been an engineer there and sometimes still did consulting work, but ran a couple of small grocery stores now. He explained ,“You see these fruits? Someone tended the soil. Watered the seeds. Watched after them as they grew. Now it is my job to see that God’s gift is given to the people. Don’t worry. I make my profit on this fruit. – from this little section alone about a thousand dollars a day. I can afford to share some fruits with you and others.” I knew it was an important meeting. Another person I had seemingly not much in common with, but we had been brought together in that moment.

He went on to tell me that he gives to local churches and mosques because he often has extra inventory. “Why should I wait until the food is expired to share it with someone? Then we are not enjoying the full power of God’s gift. When we give, we should always give our best,” he explained. We hugged and I left with tears in my eyes.

It is so incredibly remarkable to me that in the course of just a few days, two of the kindest people I met were on opposite sides: an Israeli Sniper turned American locksmith and a Palestinian engineer turned American grocer. Both showed giving from the heart, both spoke to me about the greatness of God, both were kind beyond measure, both came to this country to make a new and better life. This is the New York City I love. This is the America I love. We are all so much more alike than we are different. We are all here trying to do the best with what we have. Please keep the spirit of kindness in your heart and let it spring forth in your actions…one small act can have a profound impact on someone’s life.

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