This particular block between Broadway and Columbus in the West 60s is apparently not where I should be walking with my son Israel, because one week after the incident I described with the doorman and the super, we were balancing on the tree railings yet again, when we were passed by a well-dressed grandma-type, with a gold and turquoise Mogen David around her neck, and except for that, she could easily have been my own mother or mother-in-law. My own mother and mother-in-law would never wear visible signs of their Jewishness the way this woman does, but then my mom and mother-in-law didn't and don't live in New York City.
She stared at us. I thought, doesn't she think we're cute! She glared at us. I thought, oh no, not again! Then she passed us, and I thought, phew! But then she turned around and stopped.
"Is he yours?" she asked. She didn't smile. She wasn't asking nicely.
Since we were on our weekly mission to balance on every single railing on the south side of the street, we continued forward. She had to turn and keep up with us.
"Yes, he is!" I said, proudly with a big smile. "Isn't he cute?" I challenged.
"He's been home a whole year now, from the Congo!" I told her, again with pride, again with a big smile.
She softened. Maybe she thinks: war, famine, charity. I am not trying to get her to feel badly for my son who is doing great, no longer licks his plate clean, would prefer bread without crust these days. I am just trying to get her to think.
"Mama, no talking!" Israel tells me.
"Oh Israel, this nice lady wants to know about you. She's curious."
I know Israel hates it when I tell people stuff about him, and yet, I have a hard time not letting people know who he is and how proud I am of him. I believe that there are people who need to know.
"What is his name?" She now wears the look of horror that I prefer not to take in, so I keep my eyes on my little guy.
"His name is Israel," I tell her, emphasizing the three syllables distinctly.
"Isn't that a bit, uh, ironic?" she asks.
"Actually it was his birth name, and yes, I think it's very ironic, since although I am Jewish, I am not a Zionist." I let that sit in her craw for a moment.
"A lot of orphanages give biblical names to the children. I think it has to do with hope," I say, and again, she softens. And I notice that in myself I have softened too. I am no longer angry with her for intruding. I smile for real now. She smiles back.
"Well, good luck, Israel," she tells him and leaves.
I think we all have these softer and harder places, like lakes often have warm and cold spots, and it is really just a matter of finding them, noticing if we get stuck in a cold spot, or, if we are in a soft spot, learning to stay there, to let compassion be where we live.