The way things work out

During the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade, my family made a trek to the Catskills for the summer to rent a bungalow, as we’d done every summer since I was 4. As usual, we brought only as much as we could cram into the car in addition to the four of us. My sister and I were obliged to leave many beloved toys behind. I also left behind my new best friend, Jon, whose family stayed in the city for the summer.

I resolved to write Jon a letter from Monticello. But of course that good intention fell by the wayside as I got reacquainted with summer friends and day camp started. There were woods to explore, new pinball games in the “casino,” and clusters of Japanese beetles to crunch disgustingly underfoot. Now and then I’d renew my promise to write to Jon, but I never followed up.

About halfway through the summer I hit on the idea of tape-recording a voice message to Jon instead of writing to him. I persuaded my dad to bring my tape recorder to the country on his next trip from the city. (All the dads went to New York for the week to work, and came back on the weekends. All the moms stayed in the bungalows all summer and played mah jongg with each other. Life was exactly as depicted in the movie A Walk On the Moon, except I don’t remember any moms being as sexy as Diane Lane.)

Sunday night I sent a newly recorded tape back to New York with my dad, full of reports for Jon from the country, expressions of how much I missed him, reminders of our various silly in-jokes, and plans for what we’d do in the fall when we were reunited. My dad obligingly delivered the tape to Jon’s family some time during the week. I was rewarded the following week with a tape of my own from Jon, sounding delighted and bringing me up to date on his summer.

Years later I learned that it was during my absence early that summer that Jon was diagnosed with kidney disease and condemned to a lifetime of lengthy dialysis treatments multiple times per week. His parents were crushed, and Jon was so depressed that they feared more for his state of mind than his kidneys. Just when things seemed darkest, my long-procrastinated missive to Jon arrived. Just like that, Jon snapped out of his funk and resumed being a normal eight-year-old. To me the timing of the tape was an accident. To his mom it was literally a miracle.

Fast-forward three decades or so. I routinely exchange pleasantries with a checkout clerk named Lora at my local supermarket. We ask after each other’s families, she watches my kids grow up, etc. On one visit she mentions that she used to be a flight attendant — furloughed after 9/11, natch — and hopes to be one again. I think to myself that I should give her my copy of Plane Crazy, a musical comedy about flight attendants in the 1960’s. Via Boing Boing I learned of the musical and joined the mailing list of its creator, Suzy Conn; that’s how I scored a free DVD of a performance of the show.

Weeks go by. Either I forget to bring my DVD to the supermarket when I shop, or Lora isn’t on duty when I’m there. Finally a few days ago she, I, and the disc are all in the same place at the same time, and I present it to her. Her gratitude is out of proportion to my gesture — until I learn that her elderly mother had died only a few days earlier and she was in need of something to cheer her up. Any earlier or later and the gift would not have done nearly as much good.

Funny how these things work out. The universe gives you what you need, even through such unreliable agents as I.