> Spirituality > Spiritual Odysseys

Reality Knocks

May 9, 2009 | by Ross Hirschmann

Volunteering one hour to help others gave me a surprising insight about myself and the world.

I'm cruising in my car on the streets of LA. It's 6 o'clock. I'm off work. I turn on the radio. It's an "All '80s Evening." Perfect. Thomas Dolby is singing how she blinded him with science. Great tune. All's well with the world. I'm happy. Now it's time to go help the poor and unfortunate. Time to deliver food to needy Jews for Tomchei Shabbos. Time to be a hero. I turn up the radio and smile as I head down La Brea. I'm feeling pretty good about myself.

I arrive a few minutes late. No problem. Heroes can be a little late. I load up my car with the boxes to be delivered. Man, these people consume a lot of food! The car is packed to the brim. I get my list. Four addresses. No problem. I can handle that. Be done within an hour. Just in time to tune into Vin Scully's golden voice and listen to the Dodger broadcast on the way home. But first I've got to get rid of all this food. First, I got to be a hero.

First stop: some apartment on some small street. You'd think it could've been better marked, for heaven's sake! Drove past it once already. I park and exit the car. This should be easy. Grab the box, ring the bell, drop the food off, get a big "Thank you" and then I'm off to be a hero somewhere else. But God had other plans for me this night.

I walk up to the door, whistling as I go, and ring the bell. No answer. Great! Easier than I thought! This hero stuff is a cinch! Then a voice, "Just a minute! I'm coming, but I don't move so fast!" I peer in the side window. An older lady with a walker moves methodically and with great difficulty to the door. I stop whistling. She opens the door and musters a big smile. "Please come in!"

I enter and look around. The apartment is old and messy. She doesn't have much in the way of possessions. And it's hard for her to stand. "Could you put the boxes on the table for me, please? It's hard to me to lift things."

I am stunned by her and the whole scene. Not what I expected. The reality of her life situation hits me like a punch in the stomach. I am barely able to reply. "Of course. No problem," I somehow mutter.

As I place the boxes of food on the worn, weathered table strewn with newspapers, mail and other unknown documents, I notice photos on the wall. They are old, all in black and white. They are of a handsome young man and his wife. The couple is nicely dressed, circa 1960. They look happy with big smiles. I wonder who they are.

"Who are these pictures of?" I ask gently.

"Oh," she says, gaining a sparkle in her eyes, "That's me and my late husband. He was the love of my life! We were married only six years. Then he died suddenly in 1962. I've been alone ever since."

She still smiles at me. But how? Alone since 1962? Losing the love of your life after only six short years of marriage? How can she smile?

"Do you have any children?", I ask.

"No," she says, looking down for the first time. "But he was sure something else, my husband. Swept me off my feet!" She's smiling again.

I don't know what to do, but I want to do something for this poor lady whose Camelot came to an unexpectedly quick end. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Ma'am?" is the only thing I can muster.

"Oh, please!" she says, "You've done so much already! Thank you so much! And may God bless you with a long and happy life filled with love and many children!"

Tears now well up in my eyes. She is blessing me? She who lost so much and lives so alone still has it in her to bless others. At that moment, I realize she is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met. "Amen," I say to her blessing. "And may God bless you too."

As I turn to leave, she says joyfully, "Have a good Shabbos!"

I turn back and manage a smile. "Thank you. And Good Shabbos to you, too."


The rest of the evening is no less painful and just as poignant. A woman bed-ridden by cancer, getting chemotherapy at home. She has no family and is painfully lonely. As I prepare to leave, she too blesses me. As I leave her small apartment I turn back to see her turn away and quietly sob.

After that, a man who can no longer make ends meet, yet has too much dignity to feel comfortable acceping charity. He stands proud in his doorway as I deliver his food. And of course he blesses me, too. They all bless me.

I am driving home at night on the streets of LA. It's 8:30 pm. I have just made my last delivery for Tomchei Shabbos. I stare out the windshield lost in thought. The radio is not blaring, and Thomas Dolby is not singing about how she blinded him with science. I am not singing, either. Instead I am thinking about how I was blinded by reality.

But mostly I am thinking about how I am no hero at all -- not even a little bit. Those people who I met tonight who have endured and continue to endure hardships, and still have it in them to bless me. They are the real heroes.

Me? I'm just another one of God's kids, no better, no worse. But now a little more humble after tonight. I am one of the lucky ones. I am in good health, my Camelot of my wife and two beautiful daughters is still going, thank God. And I can still make ends meet.

I am also lucky because God let me meet these people, learn from them and in some small way help them. God bless each and every one of them.


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