Susan Slotnick: Do we know each other?

For 14 years, I got a glimpse of her several times a week through the square window of the postal truck that revealed not much more than her smile. Last week, I saw her entire person on the check-out line at the Health and Nutrition Center. A year ago, she told me her mail delivery route was changed to a different location. I had not seen her for some time.

Because of a promise I made to myself, inspired by the current polarized political climate, as well as Covid causing so much social separation, I suggested a get together. She became my second guest since my commitment to reach out to people different than me. George Civile, who writes criticisms of my columns, was my first guest.

Prejudices and biases are very subtle. In addition to the big bigotries causing havoc in society, are all the small unconscious ideas we might have about who delivers the mail or who is a politician, a doctor, disabled or a senior citizen. Often our ideas about a person can be dissembled by merely asking questions.


What I know about her now

She was born in Jamaica and arrived here on a visa at 17. Her mother became a housekeeper in Highland and she worked as a nanny in the Bronx. Eventually, family ties in Kingston brought her and her husband into the Hudson Valley.

In May, her dad died of Covid, followed by the untimely death of her 24-year-old son, her only child. She was never a risk taker. “Until now, the biggest risk I ever took was cutting my hair almost to the scalp and donning blond extensions.” She was ready for a quantum jump into the unknown. The one-way tickets were purchased for the sight-unseen journey to Tanzania. The choice to go to Africa was totally capricious, based merely on YouTube videos of the country and a strong impulse coming from her ancestral African roots.

“I am going. I know it seems crazy. I am walking away from my home security towards a country expecting a famine. At 51, with only two suitcases and a dream to be of use, off I go! My son had medical problems for most of his life. He taught me to be a nurturer. I have a big heart under my big chest. I can hold children close to me, give love. I will find an orphanage and use the gifts of comfort and presence my son taught me to carry on in his legacy and mine.”

The lesson

Like a child’s piggy bank breaking and the contents spilling out, when a heart breaks the contents within — love, compassion, sadness and softness — can spill into the world, if one chooses. Sometimes a broken heart can become harder, closed. The pain of the break can cause protecting oneself against the possibility of a new rupture. But if one chooses, each fracture, and life gives them over and over, can lead to healing.

As a dancer, I knew when you tear a muscle it repairs stronger than it was, although often less flexible, permanently changed. If a dancer moves with courage, abandonment and passion, the rips will come.

I wish my mail person, Maria Walker, a journey filled with joys and obstacles she will surely endure.

So that’s my mail person. It didn’t take much effort to get to know her. 

Who is your mail person?