We'd named ourselves The Time Travelers, a group of ten friends, male and female, from the old neighborhood in Brooklyn, classmates scattered by time and circumstance then rediscovered at high school reunions or on Facebook. Last May, we'd gathered in the leafy shadows of Prospect Park to kick off two days of memories, laughter and noshing (akin to snacking but with more gusto and usually mustard). At some time during that weekend, we learned that one of us was waging war with a nasty, aggressive cancer. We told her, as we’d told each other in the school yard years before, “We got your back, kiddo.”Over the following months, we heard about her extensive surgery and grueling rounds of chemo which she handled with amazing grace. Radiation was next. We’d kept in touch by phone and email but now, dammit, we weren’t going to let her go through more of this without us there to hold her hand, hug her gently, help her deal.
Last week, with her radiation about to begin, Time Travelers arrived from four different states by train bus and plane. One of us carried a special gift: a photo taken of our group at the May reunion surrounded by a paper mat that had made its way around the country by post, picking up autographs at each stop. And hours before our friend was scheduled to head up to radiation oncology, a contingent of us sat with her and her husband in the cafeteria at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to witness her unwrap the gift. Her beautiful smile bloomed as she read our notes of hope and friendship. Our eyes filled. We nibbled New York’s famous black-and-white cookies as we cheered her on. And when we kissed goodbye and promised to stay in touch, we meant it. If New Yorkers say, “We got your back, kiddo,” you can lay money on it—they got your back.On my way to Penn Station for the trip home, I was greeted by a young man who wouldn’t let me walk past his stand of knit hats and chenille gloves. “Hey, for that smile, lady, I take two dollars off.” How could I pass up such a bargain? I bought a pair of gloves, a little gift for myself for the holidays. But the friends that gathered for a Time Traveler in trouble, and even more, what she gave back to us—an example of bravery under fire, determination and, on most days, serene optimism—now that’s a gift the size of a New Yorker’s heart.