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A Saturday night, late February. Eileen and me
in the back of the cramped car, Julie driving,
Bruce riding shotgun. We’re heading down
to Amherst for an evening of Borscht Belt vaudeville,
Fifty Shades of Oy Vey at the local Jewish temple,
and Julie’s taking all the back roads, so that, though
I’ve lived here for fifty years, I’m already lost,
when we see a car stopped, lights dimmed,
stranded at a crossing like some lost sheep.
Julie stops, pulls over, walks over to the car, knocks
on the window and asks the driver—a woman in her eighties—
if she’s alright. It takes her a while to answer, her voice low.
“I, I think I’m lost,” she stutters. “I was visiting
my daughter, as, as I have so many times, but now
I’m lost and don’t know where I am or what to do.”
All this is taking time, precious time, you have to understand,
and meanwhile I want to get a move on to where the fun is
and hear some Jewish jokes. In fact I’ve got one myself.
This blond broad—a goy—is at a Jewish wedding
and the waiter serves her soup. “What’s this,” she asks,
and the waiter says, “Madam, this is matzoh balls soup,”
and the blond looks down, then up, and says, “Do you have
some other part of the matzoh you could serve me?”
A joke no doubt followed by a rim shot off the snare
“Bah da dum.” Instead, here we are, in the middle
of who the hell knows where, and Julie’s trying
her best to calm the woman, telling her to follow us
down to the package store over by the railroad tracks
so the woman can call her daughter—embarrassed
by the fact she’s lost—and get her safely home. And
to make matters worse, the woman can’t remember
her daughter’s number, until finally she does.
But Julie won’t leave her till she gets the daughter
on the phone, who says she’s out the door and coming.
And the young woman, who was just closing up
the store for the evening, says she’ll wait and make sure
the poor woman’s picked up and sees her on her way.
She can leave her car there overnight so the daughter
can rest easy and drive her mother home. That’s it, and
we’re finally good to go and get down to the temple.
Three women—four, if you count my wife—all
anxious to see the episode resolved and the woman
safe again, and me, internally rehearsing the joke
about the blond to get the timing right and hear
the laughter and a clap or two. And then of course
it hits me, that what I’ve just witnessed is a mitzvah
(though I confuse that with a mikvah, a Jewish bath,
which is like me). But no, this is a genuine mitzvah
I’ve just witnessed, there on a dark road among
the shadows and the stark maples, which even now
have begun to pulsate with the sap of life again,
and though I surely don’t deserve it, I’ve just been
blessed again by another random act of kindness,
something heartfelt, something real, this—how
do you say it?—this loving your neighbor
as yourself, someone nameless and confused and, yes,
embarrassed. Someone as lost as your sorry self.

—Paul Mariani