The notice was posted next
to the tenants' mailboxes in the apartment building I'd
just moved into in Brooklyn, New York. "A Mitzvah for
Mrs. Green," it read. "Sign up to drive Mrs. G in #3B
home from her chemotherapy treatments twice a
Since I wasn't a driver, I
couldn't add my name, but the word mitzvah lingered in
my thoughts after I went upstairs. It's a Hebrew word
that means "to do a good deed," or "an act that
expresses God's will." It is more than that, really,
more like a commandment to do things for
And according to my
grandmother, it also had another meaning. This was the
one she was always pointing out to me because she'd
notice how shy I was about letting people do things for
me. "Linda, it's a blessing to do a mitzvah for someone
else, but sometimes it's a blessing to let another
person do something for you."
Grandma would be shaking
her head at me right now. Several of my friends at the
graduate school I attended nights had offered to help me
settle in after the moving men left, but I'd said I
could manage. Letting them help would have interfered
with my image of myself as a capable and independent
woman of 21.
Snowflakes had been
tumbling past my window for several hours when it came
time to leave for class. I pulled on two sweaters, a
coat, a wool hat and boots, bundling up for the trek to
the bus stop that the real estate agent had dismissed as
a short stroll. Maybe in May it was a stroll, but in
this December storm it was a hike. As I topped off my
outfit with a blue scarf that Grandma had crocheted for
me, I could almost hear her voice: "Why don't you see if
you can find a lift?"
A thousand reasons why
popped into my head: I don't know my neighbors; I don't
like to impose; I feel funny asking for favors. Pride
would not let me knock on a door and say, "It's a
10-minute ride by car but a long wait for the bus, and
it's a 30-minute bus ride, so could you possibly give me
a lift to school?"
I trudged to the bus stop,
reaching it just as a bus went by.
Three weeks later, on
the night of my final exam, the snow was falling
steadily. I slogged through oceans of slush to the bus
stop. For an hour, I craned my neck, praying desperately
that a bus would come. Then I gave up. The wind at my
back pushed me toward home, as I prayed, Dear God,
how can I get to school? What should I
As I pulled Grandma's
scarf more tightly around my neck, again I seemed to
hear that whisper: Ask someone for a lift! It could
be a mitzvah.
That idea had never really
made sense to me. And even if I wanted to ask someone
for a good deed, which I did not, there wasn't a soul on
But as I shoved the door of
my apartment building open, I found myself face to face
with a woman at the mailbox. She was wearing a brown
coat and had a set of keys in her hand. Obviously she
had a car, and just as obviously, she was going out. In
that split second, desperation overcame pride, and with
my breath coming out in white puffs in the freezing
hallway, I blurted, "Could you possibly give me a lift?"
I hurriedly explained, ending with, "I never ask anybody
for a lift, but ...
An odd look crossed the
woman's face, and I added, "Oh! I live in 4R. I moved in
"I know," she said. "I've
seen you through the window. Then, after an almost
imperceptible hesitation, "Of course. I'll give you a
lift. Let me get my car key.”
"Your car key?" I repeated.
"Isn't that it in your hand?" She looked down. "No, no,
I was just going to get my mail. I'll be right back."
And she disappeared upstairs, ignoring my "Ma'am!
Please! I don't mean to put you out!" I was terribly
embarrassed. But when she came back, she spoke so warmly
as we plodded our way to a garage across the street that
I stopped feeling uncomfortable.
"You know the way better
than I," she said. "Why don't you drive?"
"I can't," I
Now I felt inept
She just laughed and patted
me on the hand, saying, "It's not so important," and
then I laughed, too. "You remind me of my grandmother,"
At that, a slight smile
crossed her lips. "Just call me Grandma Alice. My
grandchildren do. And you are ...?" As she maneuvered
her car—one of those big cars, like a tank—down the
slushy streets, I introduced myself.
When she dropped me off, I
thanked her profusely and stood there waving as she
drove away. My final exam was a breeze compared with the
ordeal I'd gone through to get to it, and asking Grandma
Alice for help had loosened me so that after class I was
able to ask easily, "Is anyone going my way?" It turned
out that while I'd been waiting for a bus every night,
three fellow students passed my apartment house. "Why
didn't you say something before?" they
Back home as I walked up
the stairs, I passed Grandma Alice leaving her
neighbor's apartment. "Good night, Mrs. Green. See you
tomorrow," the neighbor was saying.
I nodded to them and was
four steps up the staircase before the name registered
in my brain. Mrs. Green. The woman with cancer. "Grandma
Alice" was Mrs. Green.
I stood on the stairs, my
hand covering my mouth, as the ... grotesqueness was the
only word I could think of ... of what I had done hit
me: I had asked a person struggling with cancer to go
out in a snowstorm to give me a lift to school. "Oh,
Mrs. Green," I stammered, "I didn't realize who you
were. Please forgive me."
I forced my legs to move me
up the stairs. In my apartment, I stood still, not
taking my coat off. How could I have been so
insensitive? In a few seconds, someone tapped on my
door. Mrs. Green stood there.
"May I tell you something?"
she asked. I nodded slowly, motioning her toward a
chair, sinking down onto my couch. "I used to be so
strong," she said. She was crying, dabbing at her eyes
with a white linen handkerchief. "I used to be able to
do for other people. Now everybody keeps doing for me,
giving me things, cooking my meals and taking me places.
It's not that I don't appreciate it because I do. But
tonight before I went out to get my mail, I prayed to
God to let me feel like part of the human race again.
Then you came along ..."
From: Chicken Soup for the Surviving