Oranges and sympathy in NYC

  • Article by: RONALD J. LUNDQUIST
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 7:25 PM

Chance encounter in New York reveals wisdom and beauty amid pain and worry.

I met an angel in New York City the other day.

I was there on vacation with my two teenage daughters. I am a single dad; I have custody of them 85 percent of the time.

On this morning they wanted to be on their own, to explore without Dad. I trust them; they had shown that they knew what they were doing in the city, so I sent them on their way.

I found myself alone on the New York streets on a day so beautiful it must have been sent from above for a reason. I turned down a street in Little Italy. It was 9:30 a.m. The street was quiet.

Something directed me to sit on a small bench on which sat the only other soul on the street.

“Hello!” said the old man. “Thank you for joining me for breakfast.” The pile of peelings on his lap told me he was on his second orange.

He was a naturally joyful man, a character with character, I would soon learn. He wore a rumpled baseball cap, plaid shorts and a blue shirt. Around each of his wrists were several rubber bands. His eyes beamed with vitality, wisdom and experience.

It was as though I had known him all my life, so comfortable was I in his company. He told me he was a retired psychiatrist, a New Yorker just wandering the city that day. I told him I was a lawyer from the Twin Cities.

I asked him why he had rubber bands around his wrists. He said the ones on his right wrist reminded him of things to do. The ones on his left wrist reminded him to look at his right wrist.

I told him I had two teenage daughters; he told me he had six children, all daughters. As he pulled off his weathered cap, with twinkling eyes, he pointed to my full head of hair and then to his smooth pate and said, “Look what six daughters will do to you!” We laughed.

He told me about each of his daughters. The anesthesiologist in Indianapolis, the Harvard-educated lawyer, the one who managed to be a schmuck, a schlemiel and a schlamazel all at the same time. He said he loved them all as they were.

I asked him how his wife was and he grew quiet. She was in Sloan-Kettering, he said, his wife of 40 years, getting a blood transfusion. She had leukemia and already had had three bone marrow transplants, but nothing was working. He looked at the sky. I put my hand on his shoulder. He brightened. “Tell me about your children,” he said.

I told him about their personalities, how they were so different and yet so alike. I told him that I worry that I am not doing enough for them, am too hard on them, or too easy. I told him I worry that I don’t reach them — that I don’t know if they understand me or if I understand them.

“Ron” he said, almost in a whisper. “Your daughters will be fine. Don’t worry. Things are this way because they don’t know how you feel. Change that and you will change everything. Tell them how you feel.”

With that a brickload of obvious cascaded around this hurt and worried Scandinavian heart. With it came relief.

Now he put his hand on my shoulder. My head was bowed, my eyes watery, looking at the gritty New York street. “Thank you, Ron, you made my day,” he said.

I slowly raised my head to thank him, but he was gone.


Ronald J. Lundquist is an attorney in Eagan.

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