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April 2023


Photo by Ornella Binni

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Jenn Scheck-Kahn

The Give and Take of Gratitude


          M. gave me a box of biscotti to thank me for saving her life.

          But I didn’t save her life. Our neighbor Kate discovered M.’s pugs roaming the neighborhood and knocked on her door to no answer, not realizing that around the corner, M.’s garage door was open as was the door into the mudroom—steps from where she was unconscious and seizing on the kitchen floor. When another neighbor mentioned the open garage door, Kate went back to M.’s house for a second look. From inside the garage, she heard M. laboring to live. She followed that sound.

          I was at a bakery, picking out cupcakes with my kids when Kate called from M.’s house a half hour later. The paramedics had arrived, and the police were on their way.

          “She has type 1 diabetes,” I told Kate as quickly and clearly as I could.

          My nine-year-old son overheard. All afternoon he repeated, “She has type 1 diabetes. She has type 1 diabetes,” with whispered intensity. “She has type 1 diabetes.”



          M. is a neighbor and a casual friend. Because her eldest son is the same age as my son, I put extra effort into getting to know her family when they moved two houses down from ours over the winter before the pandemic began. I’d encourage friendship with anyone who lives that close, short of an animal torturer.

          Soon after a pool was installed in their backyard, M. invited us for a swim. The kids divided up along family lines, occupying different parts of the backyard and pool areas and playing with their own siblings. Just as M. and I were connecting, my kids started to yell at each other, taking a few swipes. That was my cue to gather them and go.

          “Stop by anytime!” she said. “If we aren’t outside, just ring our bell.”

          Really? Anytime? With my two?

          We swam in their pool whenever they invited us, our kids splashing in a smaller circumference around each other, though never developing the rhythm of friendship. But M. and I did, chatting poolside as Mom colleagues in the parallel struggles of parenting and family chaos in the midst of Covid. Once, when she had to step inside for a work meeting, I reffed the water-based basketball game, feeling bored without the amusement of a friend.

          Every time I let us through the backyard gate, I carried food for all five kids. A plate of cookies I had baked, then a bowl of melon or a pile of grapes.

          “It’s really not necessary,” M. said. Once we’d gotten to know each other better, she was more firm with me. “Please just come. Don’t bring anything.”

          I got her meaning. The pool-for-food exchange added a layer of formality. I had meant the food as a gesture of appreciation, not as compensation for her generosity, but a counterpoint to it. Once she insisted I not bring it, I realized that the gesture undercut the friendship forming between us.

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Jenn Scheck-Kahn reads from "The Give and Take of Gratitude"

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