Red Pears – Susan Spector

The old man sits on the end of the bench, both legs wrapped in dirty Ace bandages poking out of torn, soiled trousers. A woman stands nearby, wearing a hands-free leash around her waist. Her dog stretches the elastic lead towards the man, who is watching them. 

“101 Dalmatians, I haven’t seen a dog like that since I was in the war.” 

The woman wonders if she might be Cruella d’Evil. She doesn’t want to make eye contact with the old man, even though her sages teach that it’s an obligation to look into his eyes, to take in his humanity and look for the good. She’s a practitioner of Judaism, wanting to be a better Jew. She’s not evil, she is frightened. 

She tries to pull the leash away to back the dog up, but the dog is stronger than the woman, a better judge of souls. A prophet, in his own right. The dog pulls both of them toward the bench and sits down for a proper meet and greet. The old man begins to scratch the dog behind the ears, smiling broadly, showing the few yellowed teeth he has left. 

“Were you a soldier?”

“Yep, Iraq. Blown up twice, in a Humvee.”

“I’m sorry.”  

“Don’t be. There’re many others, much worse off than me. We have to keep America safe and free.” 

She hopes he finds comfort in this belief. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and many people were killed and maimed. She doesn’t understand why this wounded warrior seems to hold no anger. She holds enough for both of them. He goes on to tell her how he got kicked out of the nursing home he lived in for two years after coming home from war. How he now finds himself without housing.  She wants to ask why he isn’t angry that the government he was protecting is no longer interested in protecting him, but she holds her tongue. 

Then she says what you’re supposed to say. 

“Thank you for your service.” 

She fishes out a $20 bill from her purse.  

“Is it ok if I give you this?”

“Under one condition.”

“Yes?”

“Could you go inside the Food Coop and buy me a red pear? They have the best red pears.”

The woman heads inside, passing over the organic apples and golden pears, and finds the last two red ones. At the checkout, the clerk asks if she would like to round up for a food bank. Yes. The change is $18. 

In her Jewish tradition, 18 is associated with divine mercy. It’s a custom to give charity, tzedakah, in multiples of 18. The Hebrew word for “life” is chai, made up of the Hebrew letters chet (8) and yud (10). Her superstitious brain sees this as a sign. Is this what her rebbe calls Jewpernatural? Is she on some kind of accidental pilgrimage? 

Back outside, she places both red pears in the palm of his large calloused outstretched hand. His face lights up with an intense radiance.  “Red pears!”, as if it were a surprise gift. He shoves the $18 change into the moth-eaten pocket of his jacket, without glancing down or counting it. 

 

“Thank you for your kindness and understanding.”

“Thank you for your service.”

She pulls on the leash, then turns to say goodbye and head down the block to her next stop. But first, she looks into his eyes. 

Suddenly she understands what the kabbalists teach about how the spark of light animates each human being. This human being sitting before her is a tzaddik, a mystic, a righteous spiritual master, dressed up in a brilliant disguise. The spirit of Eliyahu HaNavi? He hasn’t used the word God but still he is teaching a spiritual lesson and she receives it, in full.

He is in many ways broken and messy, but it doesn’t seem as if he wants things to be any different than they are. She wants to see the way he does, with the sweetness of red pears. 

The next morning, she rises early, leashes up the dog, and returns to the bench, wondering if she’s done enough for him. Will she find him sleeping or maybe awake and wanting a cup of coffee?

On the end of the bench, she finds a small brown paper bag filled with dog treats, tied with red thread.

The man is gone.

 

Susan Spector is a brain tumor survivor who focuses on writing as a path to healing. She is a retired educator. Her true education began with her diagnosis at age 62. She is currently at work on a series of essays with the working title Watch and Wait, Reporting Live from the Frontal Lobe, under the pen name Shoshanah bat Malka.

2 thoughts on “Red Pears – Susan Spector

  1. JILLIAN HOLIDAY

    This is so lovely and heartwarming. Providing lessons of love and compassion, it invites each and everyone of us to take a closer look within. I was encouraged to find more than a spark of humility there. Thank you.

    Reply

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