Perhaps you are wondering how it came to be that my mother, a nice Jewish woman, I must interject here, sat in an airport one snowy day clutching a book describing Catholic saints, a book she had paid good money for into the bargain. My father found it inexplicable as well but I have since learned that when people hand something out “for free,” others are more likely to give them something in return. The thing you give need not be valuable, it can be a sticker, or a pencil, or maybe even your heart.
It must be noted that here my mother was upset because we had just missed a flight to Bermuda and we had never done that before as we always arrived at least two hours early and that was in the days before the long security lines from 9/11. But it was snowy and we didn’t leave early enough this time. I don’t even remember whose fault it was but my mother was upset and the nun’s look had been a strange combination of kind and determined as she had handed the book to my mother and then stood absolutely still, waiting for payment.
So, years later, when I did trick or treat for UNICEF with my kids, we handed out laminated bookmarks on the same general principle and we could easily collect over $200 dollars if we started early on Halloween and made it into a strategic and aerobic activity and searched for lit up houses until the last possible moment.
Giving first. So I gave. When I was single, I had a married friend and we shall call her Roxanne for the sake of argument. We would arrange to meet and, as I learned later, if she was peeved at her husband, our dinner would take place and if she wasn’t she would cancel and she knew I would understand because married people had to do that. I would understand if and when I ever got married.
Marriage was an inscrutable mystery to me then. I had a supervisor when I was an intern who would chase all of us out of his office during the educational sessions he was supposed to be leading if his wife was ticked off and had to talk to him that minute! We would shuffle into the hall and go to the kitchen and get a graham cracker or two, or the male interns would go and flirt with the nurses (all female in those days) until whatever marital crisis had arisen was solved in some fashion or other and he would call us back in. They had three children and a dog and a couple of goldfish but their living room had no couch because they simply could not agree on what to buy.
Giving first. So, I gave to the boyfriend who turned to me the first night we were together and told me he had never been in bed with a woman as heavy as me and I was actually at a great weight and had once been anorectic but hadn’t gotten around to telling him that. And, the comment stunned me. I should have gotten up immediately and instead when he had fallen asleep I lay there stewing and didn’t eat anything he offered for breakfast and even went back to his place again. And met his son a few dates later. And, I gave until we stood by one of those trees with those interesting shapes that look like dinosaurs in Boston Garden and he told me I was too good for him and we should break up for that reason. I had on a lovely white dress with small pink rosebuds and when I had put it on that night, I had been selecting the perfect dress for a girl to wear on a perfect date, which this most certainly turned out not to be.
So, now I am eligible for Medicare which tells you something but I am still mystified by this equation of giving and getting in friendships and in love. In case you have already suspected from my telling you that I had children, I did get married, and we were able to put a couch in our living room. I did eat breakfast with him the first night we were together, and when I ran educational rounds for my interns I never shooed them away, and I couldn’t imagine what had made that doctor long ago do that. I keep dates with my single friends. I gave away the white and pink dress a long time ago but I still love the shape of those dinosaur trees and when I took my family to Boston Garden the first time, it was awfully sweet revenge, I must say.
Anita Kestin is a medical doctor with a varied career and the gray hairs to match. For most of her career, she has worked in a traditional academic setting but for the past ten years she has worked as the medical director of a nursing facility, as a hospice physician, in the locked ward of a psychiatric facility, and in public health settings addressing patient safety issues.
She is also the daughter of Holocaust survivors, the wife of an environmental lawyer, the mother of wonderful grown children, a grandmother, and a progressive activist. She is attempting to calm her nerves during the pandemic by trying to advance the manuscript she has been writing for many years.