The notice was posted next to the mailboxes in the apartment building Linda’d just moved into. It read: “A Mitzvah for Mrs. Green. Sign up to drive Mrs. G in #3B home from her chemotherapy treatments twice a month.”
Mitzvah was a Hebrew word that means “to do a good deed”. As Linda wasn’t a driver, she couldn’t add her name. Linda’s grandma was always pointing out to her regarding how shy Linda was about letting people do things for her. “Linda, it’s a blessing to do a mitzvah for someone else, but sometimes it’s blessing to let someone do something for you.”
Grandma would be shaking her head right now. Linda’s friends had offered to help her settle in after the moving men left, but Linda’d said she could manage. Letting them help would have interfered with her image of herself as a capable and independent girl of 21.
Three weeks later, on the night of her final exam, the snow was falling steadily. Linda slogged through ocean of slush to the bus stop. For an hour, she craned her neck, praying desperately that a bus would come. Then she gave up. The wind at her back pushed her toward home. As Linda pulled grandma’s scarf more tightly around her neck, she seemed to hear the whisper: “Ask someone for a lift! It could be a mitzvah.” The idea had never really made sense to her. And even if she wanted to ask someone for a good deed, there wasn’t anyone on the street.
As Linda shoved the door of her apartment building open, she found herself 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 she was going out. In that split second, desperation overcame pride, and with her breath coming out in white puffs in the freezing hallway, Linda blurted, “Could you possibly give me a lift?” She hurriedly explained, ending with, “I never ask anybody for a lift, but …”
An odd look crossed the woman’s face, and Linda added, “Oh! I live in 4R, I moved in recently.” “I know,” the woman said. “I’ve seen you through the window.” Then after an almost imperceptible hesitation, the woman said, “Of course, I’ll give you a lift. Let me get my car key.”
“Your car key?” Linda repeated. “Isn’t that it in your hand?” The woman looked down. “No, no, I was just going to get my mail. I’ll be right back.” And she disappeared upstairs. Linda was terribly embarrassed. But when the woman came back, she spoke so warmly as they plodded their way to a garage across the street that Linda stopped feeling uncomfortable.
“You know the way better than I,” the woman said. “Why don’t you drive?” “I can’t” Linda said. Now she felt uneasy again. The woman just laughed and patted her on the hand, saying, “It’s not so important,” and then Linda laughed, too.
“You remind me of my grandma,” Linda said. A slight smile crossed the woman’s lips. “Just call me Grandma Alice. My grandchildren do. And you are …?” As she maneuvered her car down the slushy street, Linda introduced herself.
When Grandma Alice dropped Linda off, Linda thanked her profusely and stood there waving as she drove away. The final exam was a breeze. Asking Grandma Alice for help had loosened Linda so that after exam she was able to ask easily, “Is anyone going my way?” It turned out that while she’d been waiting for the bus every night, three of her classmates passed her apartment. “Why didn’t you say something before?” they chorused.
Back home as Linda walked up the stairs, she passed Grandma Alice leaving a neighbor’s apartment. “Good night, Mrs. Green. See you tomorrow,” the neighbor was saying.
Linda nodded to them and was four steps up the staircase before the name registered in her mind. Mrs. Green. The woman with cancer in 3B. “Grandma Alice” was Mrs. Green.
Linda stood on the stairs, her hand covering her mouth. She had asked a person struggling with cancer to go out in a snowstorm to give her a lift to school. “Oh Mrs. Green,” she stammered, “I didn’t realize who you were. Please forgive me.” She turned back and Mrs. Green was looking at me.
“May I tell you something?” Mrs. Green asked. Linda nodded slowly. “I used to be so strong,” she said, “I used to be able to do things 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 let me feel like part of the human race again. Then you came along …”