15 February, 2009

A Midnight Mitzvah*

There is a disabled man who lives around the corner from me. I really like him. I consider him my friend. But I have never spoken with him, we've never exchanged two words. But I respect and admire him more than I could ever hope to articulate.

Occasionally, I will see him on the tube, I will glance over and smile, and he will respectfully nod back to me, recognising both me and our silent neighbourly connection, with an expression both sincere and circumspect. He always wears a beautifully tailored suit, and he always smells aromatically and decadently of the Mid East. He wears simple wire-rimmed glasses and a perfectly folded handkerchief in his breast pocket. He is very proud and very strong and very, very wonderful. He is a hero. I adore him.

One of the many frustrating things about London is how taxing and difficult it is to get around. Although the public transportation system is vast and relatively dependable, the city itself is a sprawling creature with thousands of intricate tentacles. Or perhaps these strings of transportation are more like veins, all pumping life force throughout the circulatory system of the city, moving some in, and some out, resting at night. Our hero's disability affects his legs and feet, and his speed though steady and dignified and deliberate, is often compromised by the impatient, the careless, the heartless, or simply, the late.

Tonight I saw him outside the Underground station, walking steadfastly to the Bus stop, when suddenly a 67 appeared, and people started running to catch the Bus probably 60 yards away. Not much of a run for the likes of me. But for this man, everything about it was agony. The pain of not making it, especially at this hour of night, far exceeded any physical discomfort. I saw him struggle, and deliberately slowed my pace, and tried to allow all the other passengers to board the bus as slowly as possible, then took my good sweet time boarding the bus in my own right. I dove into my bag searching for my pesky oyster card, attempting to let my friend catch up. He was just a few paces behind! And when my efforts failed and the driver started to take off without him, I stopped him and said "Wait! Please!" and my friend triumphantly boarded the bus.

I sat down on the bottom deck by the window and didn't look back. He took the seat beside me, shifting into the seat out of breath but happy. Relieved.

"Made it," he said to me, smiling, breathless, looking me in the eye.
And then a moment.
He looked down into his lap, fists clenched around his knees. "Thank you."
"No problem," I said.

We smile at one another.
And that was that.

* Mitzvah (Hebrew: מצווה, IPA: [ˈmɪtsvə], "commandment"; plural, mitzvos or mitzvot; from צוה, tzavah, "command") is a word used in Judaism to refer to the 613 commandments given in the Torah and the seven rabbinic commandments instituted later for a total of 620. The term can also refer to the fulfillment of a mitzvah.

The term mitzvah has also come to express any act of human kindness, such as the burial of the body of an unknown person. According to the teachings of Judaism, all moral laws are, or are derived from, divine commandments.


  1. So deeply moved..your kindness, respect for human dignity & generosity of spirit...touches my heart.
    Thank you for sharing your world.

  2. That is such a sweet story. I bet that "thank you" was one of the most beautiful thing you ever heard.

    Gotta love that British reserve.

  3. Your story made me cry. It's moments like those where I have faith in humanity. I see it more and more in cities (New York particularly), and honestly, it's very comforting. A mitzvah. :)

  4. This is lovely...

  5. I think these things in my head all the time but could never write about them like that.

  6. i love this...



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