A Wandering Jew

Posted on June 17, 2021


I‘m not a fan of walking. I know how to walk, and I walk when it’s necessary. Some years ago, I walked 60 miles in three days in order to raise money for breast cancer research. I walked in honor of a close friend who died in her forties of the disease. I walk 1.5 miles each day on the treadmill at the gym, while I stare into my Kindle and gaze occasionally at the news on the gym’s TV monitor. But, when walking isn’t necessary, I don’t. I drive to the supermarket that is two blocks from my house. I drive to people’s homes that are a couple blocks away.

During COVID, I watched countless neighbors walk the neighborhood everyday. In a time of forced isolation, they all suddenly found the neighborhood fascinating. I didn’t. I simply waited for the gym to re-open. When it did, I stood in a long, socially-distanced line, to get back in.

Wandering is different. Wandering is a joy. Wandering in exciting locations for miles, for hours, wandering with no specific destination, no requited Fit Bit steps to check off one’s to-do list. Wandering in magical places with no agenda, other than to see what presents itself. I have wandered in London. I have wandered in Paris. I have wandered in Istanbul. Yesterday, I wandered in Brooklyn, as I have done many times before. It did not disappoint.

The storefronts of old Italian bakeries and delis were decorated outside with old Italian men, seated on folding chairs or crates, following the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers in the Old County. On corners, old men gathered, speaking, gesturing, playing cards, laughing. Their voices and gestures mimicked previous generations who had slogged their way across the ocean, bringing their hand motions and their traditions with them.

On a street corner, next to a popular bar, in a courtyard garden, Saint Lucy, patron saint of the blind, stood on a blue pedestal, under a delicate awning. A stone pathway led from the street to the statue. An iron fence surrounded it. A plaque read “In memory of Tuddy Balsamo.” Years ago, Tuddy, a former fish store owner, prayed to St Lucy, promising her that if his impending eye surgery went well, he would build a shrine in her honor. His surgery was a success and Tuddy made good on his promise, erecting the statue on the property of a gracious friend, who lived at the corner. Tuddy died years later, with good eyesight, thanks to Saint Lucy. His sons continue maintaining the shrine.

I visited an antique store, filled with the memorabilia of my childhood. If you live long enough, your life ends up displayed in antique stores. A large carton sat, filled with what looked like thousands of old black and white photos of random lives. I was sure that if I had had the time to root through it, I would have found myself.

I passed a magazine photo shoot in progress. Ten people at attention, with photography equipment, light reflectors and styling products, all to assist one human (albeit a pretty spectacular-looking human) who had perfected the facial expression of someone who is gazing at something far more compelling than you, while you are able to focus solely on him. I tiptoed past, hugging the edge of the curb, aware that I was an interloper on magic being created.

A beautiful older woman walked past me, swathed in lime green chiffon from head to toe. She had upswept hair and long bangs. Her hair was also lime green. She may have been wearing lime green gloves. She was a vision, pure and simple. I swiveled my head and watched her disappear down the street. I desperately wanted to stop her and ask if I could take a photo. I didn’t, out of respect for her privacy.

When I returned and told my daughter about her, my daughter said, “Oh my god, that woman is famous. She is the Green Lady of Brooklyn. The New York Times ran a story about her. I can’t believe you saw her. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for 13 years and I have never seen her.” I found out that her name is Elizabeth Sweetheart and she is 80 years old. She is also the most stately, unforgettable 4 foot 11.5 inch person I have ever seen.

Throughout my hours of wandering, each person and each place that made me stop had the same silent message for me. It’s the same message I have heard all over the world in my wanders. Each said, “You believed you were wandering, but you weren’t. You came here to find exactly this.” I will continue to call it “wandering” but I will also not argue with the message.

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