Friday, March 13, 2015


Today, on the way to my son's bus stop, I noticed a pink iPhone on the ground. An expensive item, just lying there, as if recently dropped by someone who had to be under the age of twenty. Okay, probably under the age of sixteen.

Now, I know firsthand that things get lost in New York City. My own phone actually (though not an iPhone) disappeared into thin air a few years ago. Toys belonging to my children have left our apartment never to be seen again. It happens.

So, there, on the ground, was a pink iPhone. It would, I thought, be scooped up and "disappeared" in moments, and why not? Who wouldn't feel lucky finding the equivalent of a bunch of money as they were walking? I thought about what the kid who dropped it must be thinking--about the sinking feeling of discovering it was no longer in your pocket, the absolutely awful experience of having to tell your parents, and the sense of loss, knowing that a tiny piece of the record of your life was just gone. And before I knew it, I had retraced my steps and picked up the phone.

Once holding it, as if I had picked up a hurt baby bird, I was stuck as to what to do. I had rescued it from certain vanishing, but how would I be any different from anyone else who picked it up? With the keypad locked, it could give me little clue as to the identity of its owner. It rang as I held it, but the caller hung up too quickly to be of help. Yet, in the pocket of its case were a student Metrocard and a library card. And, lo and behold, the Metrocard had a name. And a number. Which narrowed things down to, well, probably thousands of kids with cellphones at hundreds of schools in the New York City area. But with a little luck, my first guess was the right one. And within an hour, the pink iPhone was back in the hands of its very relieved young owner.

I tend to spend a lot of time thinking I'm not too useful if I'm not making money to fund my family or not making a dinner everyone likes or not using my hours at home to render our apartment "cleaning lady clean" (not that we've ever really had a cleaning lady). Today, in the course of my hour with the pink iPhone, I felt more useful than I have on any number of days at work or at home.

Sometimes, "useful" is not about money or food or cleaning. Sometimes "useful" is just about a pink iPhone and the smile on the face of a child.

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