THE DISTANCE BETWEEN DEATH AND LIFE CAN BE THE MEASURE OF A GOOD DEED:

4 Jan

“Mom, I’m home,” was best I could manage, letting her know I was back in my Dupont Circle apartment. Having expected to arrive from Toronto into DC by 1:30pm, I had no complaints my flight landed well after 3:00. Broken luggage and all, I was just happy to arrive. My ride to Toronto’s PearsonAirport was a valuable lesson not taught in Northview Height’s high school math- the distance between death and life can be the measure of a good deed, a mitzvah. 

Mine and Mom’s night-before banter about getting me to the airport flowed into our morning cereal and dueling over newspapers. “You mean you’re going to read and not talk to me?” she asked when I reached for Canada’s National Post. “We’ll do both,” and we did talking about manufactured news people read every day tweaked by reporter’s from tidbits gleaned off newswire services. We compared Canada’s generous coverage of Canada’s expanding Muslim community to that of US media. We talked about my getting to the airport. Mom was not a consideration. The roads were unsafe and icy. Either cab or shuttle. And a long goodbye at her building’s front door.

Wonderfully set in her ways, Mom called cabbies she relies on. “I prefer supporting someone I know,” she said. Reb Something-or-other hadn’t returned her call from the night before. The second cabbie was now booked back-to-back. I was comfortable taking Malton’s 98A from the Lawrence Avenue loop. Life in Europe without a car, taught me the patience of public transportation. 9:09 Mom called from her room. “Yehuda will meet us downstairs at 9:30, Car…” 

By 9:20 we headed down the elevator to wait in the glassed lobby, looking across the unbroken white expanse blanketed with fallen snow. Not appreciating the difference a minute can make, I looked at my watch. 9:30am. Mom was sharing a parable. “A man visited the rabbi, complaining about his wife…. The rabbi’s wife walked by as her husband responded to the congregant, “you are right.” The congregant’s wife then met with the rabbi, complaining about her husband. The rabbi’s wife walked by as her husband told the woman, “you are right.” “How can they both be right?” she asked her husband. As Mom was sharing, “the rabbi’s answer, “and you are right!,” the cab arrived. White. 9:35am. “That must be Yehuda,” she said.

Our goodbye extended when my mom looked up at me, in the doorway, “And you are right, too, Carrie.” Something about validation that makes a grown daughter love a shrinking older mom, heart and soul. The frail elderly woman behind us was anxious to exit on to the sheet of ice that used to be walkway and car drive. Noting her cane, her precariousness of step, I grasped the older woman’s black gloved hand, guiding her slowly to a safe stretch of asphalt merging from yesterday’s storm, I looked back at the glass front, for one last wave. Mom was gone from the picture window. I watched the old woman negotiating her way, as Yehuda turned left on Clarke, heading towards Bathurst Street then north along Highway 7 towards Toronto’s airport. 

There is something resolute about leaving Mom’s home. Knowing I was going to be on my own, again, I wasn’t much interested in Yehuda’s questions. Eventually, they stopped. His curious looks through the rearview mirror had me turn to the disappearing familiar landscape I had grown up with. It takes a lifetime, I now accept, for an independent spirit to settle.

We hit Highway 7. I watched the black asphalt sweep under us. I saw the steel grey PT Cruiser in the far left lane lose control. It left the Number One sharply, careening vertically across our oncoming traffic, hitting the CNN Railway Bridge guardrail head on, losing a tire upon impact before sliding to a stop next to the protective guardrail it might have leapt to sure death yards below on the train tracks. A lone tire from the Cruiser rolled south into traffic stopping in front of our cab, upright, standing tall, facing west in the same direction our cab was traveling. Yehuda looked at me. Saying nothing, he climbed from the cab, returning the tire to its owner. The driver was fine. His car was totaled. Those were the exact words we communicated to Police Emergency. “A non-fatal single vehicle accident at the flyover just east of Exit 67 on Highway 7.”

Something about a near miss with death, makes strangers bond. From no conversation to a 911 call, all of a sudden there was alot to talk about. Yehuda was irate at drivers who should not be on roads in the winter. “Don’t they know they must be extra careful traveling bridges…” He explained with there being no ground under flyovers the road surface is much colder than asphalt buffered by dirt. The cold from beneath the overpass creates a glass like surface cars skate over, swerve out of control on, as just happened before our eyes. This time when Yehuda inquired about my occupation, I answered. I told him my themes resonate faith, philanthropy, homeland security and terrorism.

Yehuda told me if I wanted terrorism I should go to Israel.” I told him I didn’t need to, terrorism found me here. His eyebrows puzzling, I expanded “My youngest brother… January.” “He lived here?” “No Israel.” “He was visiting?” “No, he lived there.” “He has family?” “Seven children…” Yehuda paused. “He lived in the West Bank?” “No, the Territories.” “He was a doctor?” “No, a psychologist.” “He went to Denmark….” Then I knew. “You drove my brother…” Our family lived on Denmark Crescent before our dad died of lymphoma. My brother had raced across the world, from Israel, to be with us as our dad slipped away. I will always remember Chezi storming the hospital room door, his children’s photos in his hand. He wanted Dad to see the beauty our family hold’s on to as Chezi’s legacy. How prophetic photos can be. There were no Chezi in the photo. Just seven children. With a courageous Mom. That night was a sad night for all of us. With all six of his sons and daughters enveloping him in accapella harmony for hours, Dad crossed over. That was 1997. This was seven years later. 

Yehuda said little else until we pulled curbside at Air Canada, USA Departures. I could see something was resonating within him as he climbed from his driver’s seat. He approached, pulling a gold card from his wallet. Lt. Colonel Yehuda Sharraf, Israeli army. “I work here for the money.” I understood. I remember the joke “how can a Canadian become a millionaire in Israel?” The answer was “Move there with ten million.”

 “Yehuda,” I said, looking at his gold military card, “the time it took me to walk the old lady to the safe patch of driveway was the time it took to save our lives.”

Later I told my mother, “The exact distance of time we were delayed is the time it took to escort your neighbor.” “The PT Cruiser would have broad sided our cab, shoved us into the path of the large white truck to my right.” I didn’t need to say more. 

Climbing into Air Canada’s puddle jumper for my flight home, I smiled at how often I would ask my high school chemistry teacher why I would ever need to know how to calculate the speed at which water goes down the drain. Thinking back to the morning’s near miss, I wondered, if asked for definition of distance between a mother’s protective “be-safe-call-me-when-you-arrive” hug and a ride down memory lane on the same cab backseat my brother rode on for his last homecoming with our dad, if the teacher could have answered, an act of kindness.

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