I would like to greet this season of thanksgiving, grace and renewal with an attitude of gratitude — a clear acknowledgement and deep appreciation of the gifts bestowed on me by family, friends and acquaintances and, sometimes, by strangers.
I consider my newfound friend, Kevin, a real mensch. According to Dr. Saul Levine (Psychology Today, Nov. 19, 2015), “a mensch refers to a person of intrinsic worth, a decent, thoughtful individual.” It is a Yiddish word, describing “a ‘very special’ person, one who manifested and exuded certain admirable traits.” Kevin is a man of integrity, honesty, compassion and kindness.
My first encounter with him was through my bay window in my living room. When the pandemic started in 2020, and I was caged inside the house, I felt liberated when looking through glass doors and windows. I accidentally peeped through that huge window and spotted Kevin picking up my garbage bin, which I had failed to move toward the curb so he could easily dump the contents down the chute of his truck. He got off his driver’s seat and pulled the bin toward his truck, unloaded the refuse and rolled it back toward the garage. Then, he waved at me. I waved back and bowed to say thanks. From that point on, I waited for his truck to roll into the neighborhood to greet him with a bow and a whispered thank-you, while he waved back at me and nodded, with his hands clasped together. This was our ritual tableau — our sign language communication that went on for a year, until I was able to get my COVID-19 vaccine in March of this year.
We met face to face for the first time, and I thanked him for his kindness and thoughtfulness. I told him that I waited for him every Thursday, so I could connect with another human being other than Alexa and my Zoom colleagues. Surprisingly, I was also a bright light to him during these dark months of pandemic isolation. He told me that he, too, looked forward to stopping by my house to connect nonverbally, which sustained him during the monotonous days of the pandemic, when everyone was walled in.
Amie is a consummate mensch, who delights and finds fulfillment in helping others. She has rescued me many times in the past, but her support and assistance are lifesaving during this pandemic. I have been unable to drive for months on end, and Amie is always there to take me to the doctors and specialists, to go to the supermarkets and drugstores, and to simply be there to listen and to socialize. She is Dover’s one-woman social service agency, who helps every individual who needs support, assistance or advocacy, and she does it all without expecting anything in return. She holds up more than half the sky for hundreds of people in this little town. She is a virtual superhero, a consummate mensch!
The Meals on Wheels program, administered through the Modern Maturity Center, has been a lifesaving service for me and the many homebound seniors in the area. Under the able leadership of Trudy, the program provides nutritious meals to seniors in Dover and adjacent communities. Two volunteers stand out in their ability to connect, serve and elevate the spirit of the senior citizens, with their customer-focused service and caring. The first one is Keith, who lived in New Jersey for many years, and moved to Delaware when he retired. He is patient and jovial, and is a giant, both figuratively and literally. He is tall and has a big and caring heart. He rings the doorbell and waits until I show up. He doesn’t just leave the bag of food on the table near the steps, but he waits to make sure that I am all right. He told me that part of his job, which he considers a sacred covenant, is to make certain that all is well with me. A wonderful side benefit of the service is the potential to carry on a real conversation with a live person — a delight for the human sensory system that has not been used and lies quietly, waiting silently like a coiled cobra ready to be called into action.
Leon is the other volunteer who has been a real lifeline to me during the pandemic. He is sharp, a lifelong learner and service-oriented, and actively promotes equity and racial justice for all. He engages my mind with his insights and deep understanding of political, social and economic issues affecting ordinary citizens. He sends carefully crafted letters to public servants to make them accountable to the people they serve. He is an active participant, not merely a spectator in the democratic process. He is a beacon in the darkness, attempting to build a bridge to a just and more equitable country. It’s a real joy to carry on lively, lifechanging conversations with Leon, a certifiable mensch!
Finally, survival in a tough and altered future is impossible, challenging at best, without the support and care of a strong and loving family. One loving son ministers and nurtures my survival needs for food and sustenance and will search to the ends of the Earth to find what I love to eat and drink — my staple snack of mini-saltines, my healthy green tea loaded with antioxidants and my life-sustaining spring water.
The other loving son listens with intention, suggests poetry and prose that nourishes my mind and soul, and infuses my beaten-down psyche with courage and determination. He does not enable but dares me to push the boundaries and join the fellowship, joy and revelry of the unfamiliar social landscape and workplace that I deserted many moons ago. Recently, he sent me a link to a notable Nigerian poet named Ijeoma Umebinyuo, who jump-started my healing and recovery with these powerful lines: “Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. … Start where you are, with what you have. Just … start.”
We can flourish and grow with family on our side, a tribal community collectively unfolding its complicated sparkle and a united country, tolerant of its conflicting realities. Despite hard times, most of us have a wonderful life, with a mensch or two by our side. Let us give thanks!
Dr. Theresa del Tufo is an organizational consultant and author. Her fifth book, “Women Powered,” is now available. She has been a resident of Dover for more than 50 years.