On Sunday, Myfanwe, Norbert and I participated in delivering Passover food boxes to poor, elderly Jews living in Uptown. Participants were drawn from the membership of the neighborhood Jewish Community Center, but all of the families that participated were families from Norbert's school.
There were a couple of humorous moments -- like when the desk clerk explained why Mrs. Horowitz didn't answer her door. Apparently she was at church. I wanted to say "With a name like Horowitz?", but before I could, the clerk added, "They have a nice snack after."
There were also some serious, thought provoking moments. Norbert was off with one of his classmates and her mom delivering boxes, so Myfanwe and i struck off on our own. We were delivering to separate apartments on the same floor. I knocked on a door and Mr. Geflotzenplotzer* asked from behind the closed door who it was. I explained who I was, and, after a pause, he timidly opened the door. He was a thin, frail old man wearing only urine-soaked underwear, sitting in a wheelchair.
I asked him if he would like me to unpack the box for him, which I did. He was very happy for the jar of gefelte fish and the horseradish. He likes horseradish. I put the chicken in the freezer, put the produce in the crisper, and stacked the boxes of matzah and the cans where he could reach them. He then apologized for his appearance, explaining that he didn't have anyone to help him get cleaned up and dressed on Sundays.
Without skipping a beat, and in a very matter-of-fact way, I asked if I could help him get cleaned up and dressed. He paused, but not for long, and accepted. I explained to him that my father had had numerous strokes and that for the last 12 years of his life he had been paralyzed on his right side and restricted to a wheelchair. I was confidant I could help him.
As he leaned his old, frail body against my younger, more hail frame something inside me changed. I can't really explain what it was or how I changed, I just know I did. The only thing worse than having to help a stranger off with his urine-soaked underpants is knowing that he had been sitting in them, possibly for hours, without anyone else to ask. As difficult or embarrassing as it might be to find yourself with a naked stranger leaning against you, think how embarrassing it was for him.
After Mr. Geflotzenplotzer was cleaned up and dressed, he thanked me. And I very sincerely told him that no thanks were necessary. And I made it all the way outside his apartment before I started to cry.
*Not his real name.