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A Stranger’s Gift

Last Sunday found me at the bike shop, full of people coming and going with their two-wheelers. While waiting, an elderly man entered wearing red sneakers, cut off khakis, white tee shirt and an old-fashioned baseball cap with no brim, like a beanie. The hat was probably as old as he, the fabric worn, and the words “Little Slugger” stitched on a baseball on the front. He was carrying a bicycle tire. There was an air pump next to me and he bent down to use it.

“Would you like me to pump while you hold it?” I asked.

He looked up, his brown eyes smiling, his beanie somehow not falling off. “Thank you, but I can do it.” He looked back at the wheel, but suddenly back at me. “You know, when I was 12 I fixed a door lock.” He had an accent but I couldn’t place it. “If you know the material, if you know the purpose and if you know the energy of what it is supposed to do, you can fix anything.”

I smiled back and soon my bike was ready. As I walked out, I stopped by the man. “What are those three things again?” He followed me outside.

With the sun beating down on the corner of West 96th Street and Broadway, stories were shared between two strangers. “I was born in Israel, my parents dead by the time I was 11,” he said. “But I could fix things. I worked on that door knob a long time and when I heard that click.” He paused, closing his eyes as if remembering the sweet sound of his early success. “I then knew my purpose. The same principle is true with everything you want to accomplish.”

This 80-year-old had become the number one mechanic in Haifa before going into the army. He came to America in his 20s and had two marriages; the first for citizenship, the second for love. “My wife,” he said, looking in the distance and pausing to allow the wave of sadness to crest and fall, “is alive, but a vegetable. Very sad getting old and what do doctors know?” He waved his finger in the air. “Not much.”

The mechanic, whose name was Mike, rested his hand on my arm, pinching the skin a bit, something my paternal grandmother used to do when she spoke to me, causing now my eyes to tear. Then he nodded to my bike. “That is the best medicine,” Mike said. “And if you ever need it fixed, call me.” And as Mike gave me his phone number, I realized he’d already given me so much more.

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