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Being Kind in Trying Times

By Naomi Serviss


A meditative Marge pauses for a moment in Central Park
A meditative Marge pauses for a moment in Central Park


I’m worried about Marge.


She’s a familiar stranger I encounter daily during my early morning Central Park walks.


Said she has an Upper West Side apartment.


Marge is always on the move, toting crinkly vinyl shopping bags.

Always ready to schmooze and share dog stories.


She sips from a large 7-11 coffee.


Her favorite spot is in front of the Hippo Playground’s benches.


It’s a slightly elevated vantage point.


This spot has the best view, Marge enthusiastically proclaims.


Often.


Marge wore a drab winter coat in the middle of July.


She was antsy and distracted.


Last week she wheeled black luggage without explanation.


Maybe her worldly possessions.


Or plastic bottles.


I’d pause to chitchat about the virus, lousy humidity and favorite park dogs.

I fancy the royal Bernese Mountain dogs.


Barry is my favorite.


Marge prefers Jagger.


She wore a stained, purple unbuttoned shirt over a couple of T-shirts.


Her summery turquoise top was stained.


Tattered sneakers were giving her foot problems.


I urged her to get vaccinated.


Don’t get the vaccine, she reported hearing.


The vaccine is dangerous, someone said.


But wouldn’t tell me where she heard it.


I urged her to get one and offered to accompany her.

Thanks, but no thanks.


A refusenik.


Her shoulder-length, dirty brown hair looked more disheveled the other day.


Oversized glasses swamped her weathered, pinched face.


Her delusions overpowered rational thought.


She just finished touring with James Taylor.


Marge angrily claimed the landlord was poisoning her.


Maybe putting drugs in her food.

That’s why I’ve been drinking so much water, she said.


Marge took two long pulls from the cold steel fountain inside the gated Hippo Playground.


Marge's go-to spot in Central Park is the Hippo Playground
Marge's go-to spot in Central Park is the Hippo Playground

I suggested she visit an urgent care clinic.


Ulterior motive:


I hoped someone would notice Marge’s homeless vibe and get her help.


The paranoid delusions were hard to ignore.


I’m not going to be doing that,” she snapped.


Did she have somewhere else to stay?


What can I do to help?


She raged about horrid siblings.


I left.



When I was in sixth grade, my best friend Susie taught me a valuable lesson in kindness.


She said I looked like Pugsley from The Addams Family.


I laughed along with her at the time, but it crushed.


My bully older brother amused himself by calling me fat, tubby and other cruel variations.


I expected that from him, but Susie?


Funny, the things that stick with you.


Words can hurt.


They can also heal when chosen wisely.


Now able to meet friends in the flesh, it’s time to take stock.


Speaking strictly for myself.


My meditation practice centers me.


Reinforces my desire to practice loving kindness.


I’m not there yet.


Still practicing.


We’re all reaching for connection.


The plague year of lonely isolation is waning.


Fifth Avenue is bustling with buses, cars and crowds.


Sometimes serendipity’s byproduct is loving kindness.


Yesterday I wore my fire engine red, cartoony Tom & Jerry T-shirt on my morning jaunt.

I was close to Summit Rock and taking a breather to feed sparrows.


Two women sneakered up the path towards me.

I did a double take.


Was that woman wearing the same goofy T-shirt?

She was!


Jessica and I instantly connected. We laughed and took selfies.


What are the odds?


Serendipity.


Jessica, a cantor en route for Shabbat services, invited me to Zoom along.

Cantor Jessica singing
Cantor Jessica singing

Her loving kindness sparked joy.


The rabbi was uplifting and comforting.


Jessica’s voice was brilliant, moving and inspiring.


She gave me a shout-out at the end.


Hi Naomi, good to see you! Come back!


A sweet gesture passed over the computer in real time!


That’s loving kindness come full circle.



A broken park water fountain has been driving me nuts.


Every thirsty dog is thoroughly morose.


Maybe I’m projecting.


Functioning Central Park water fountains should be the norm.


That goes without saying.


Why did I have to say it more than once?


I called 311 and meditated while on hold for 10 minutes.


Eventually I was rerouted to the Parks Department.


I detailed the fountain fail.


Gave a perfect location description.

Wanted a time frame.


Weeks later an official email blew me off.


Paraphrasing:


We’ll get to it when we get to it.


Then the exchange got really testy.


I replied, citing his pompous answer.


I wasn’t very kind.


But people and dogs (especially the dogs) were suffering!


Every morning I now fill my water bottle to capacity and tote a plastic bowl.


I’m the town crier of the water fountain:


The fountain’s been broken for months!


I reported it.


I have a bowl and water.


Would your dog like some?


Most owners without water are grateful.


Barry, my favorite Bernese Mountain Dog, slurped the whole thing.


Fortunately, my walking partner also brought a full water bottle.


Robert retrieved a small plastic bag of sunflower seeds from my backpack and scattered them.


A pigeon walked quickly towards us.


Long story short:


This same pigeon has been waiting for us at 7:15

a.m. this past week.


I’ve been bringing multigrain wild bird seed in a baggie.


Robert eschews bread, sugar and inorganic products.

Is that bird seed organic? he asked.


Anticipating another lengthy lecture on coconut oil benefits, I tossed out a quick, Yes, the bird seed’s organic.


The well-nourished pigeon waddled over.


I named him Scrappy.


He vacuumed the seed then chest-blocked an encroaching bird.


I’ve turned into the Bird Lady from Mary Poppins!


No doubt Scrappy will show up tomorrow.



Hopefully Marge does too.








Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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