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Letting Go, 2016

Searching for Miriam Joyce Foss

Hari Prasada Das


Before beginning our workday, I walked over to 8th Avenue to pick up groceries so that Rasanath and I could cook our lunch for the week. The street vendor was in and Gristedes covered what he didn’t have for cheap. I walked back to our 53rd and 7th office with several weighty bags, when I saw on 53rd, between Broadway and 7th, an older woman lying on the ground.

It couldn’t have been more than a few moments that she’d been there. One gentleman tended to her as a neighboring security guard rushed onto the scene. I joined in, bags in hand.

A small crowd quickly began to form.

Someone had phoned 911. I was charged to hold her legs up and keep rubbing them to sustain the circulation flowing. I dropped my bags to the concrete.

I was stunned. She was heavyset and convulsing. I felt a visceral fear in the pit of my stomach.

A lady found a cell phone in the collapsed woman’s purse and tried calling numbers. She began naming her Joyce.

A man rushed from a Halal stand across the street and placed an herbal scent beneath her nose. Soon, an EMT arrived. He treated her but was waiting for paramedics with more training. Another helper found an ID in the purse and noted the woman’s name was “Miriam Joyce Foss”.

An intimate crew of younger and older men and women of all nationalities now strove to serve Miriam Joyce Foss, whom they’d met on the pavement of Manhattan moments earlier. I was shocked to be a part of the crew, as I clung to her legs and whispered her prayers from the core of my heart.

It’s a scene you don’t imagine yourself transplanted in at the outset of the day. It’s not something that can aptly be comprehended at all.

As the specialists crashed our circle, they did everything they could to resuscitate her. The violence of CPR hit me harder than when I first learned the technique as a child and thought I was special – some kind of savior – a savior who never strove to save…

Now it was impossible to feel like a hero. I had to give up even the legs I’d been given to rub and pray over. There was nothing I could do. They pumped air into her and put a mask on her to help her breath.

I watched for a half hour as nothing changed. Sometimes it looked like she was out. Sometimes, you’d see her breath or the awkwardness of her body reacting to the slamming of her chest.

As a kid, I remember they had warned me, you could break the sternum and effectively kill the patient you’re trying to revive. I should have known it wouldn’t be pretty to see… I cried inside for Miriam yet I had no tears. No connection but the connection of synchronicity.

I felt for her. And felt I didn’t feel enough!

Did she know what was happening?
Did she fall because of a condition?
Was it sudden?
Had it happened before?
Was it the fall that caused the whole misfortune?
Would her family be terrified?
Was she in pain now?
Was she terrified herself?

It was horrible to think anything in those moments. I simply prayed and prayed to drown out the questions.

I remained in suspense. She was carried off the sidewalk on a gurney and into the back of an ambulance. I waited until the ambulance, sirens blazing, sped off into the distance.

I watched out of respect, the same respect we’d traditionally show a guest who was leaving by waiting at the door or watching the car drive off. I picked up my groceries, shook myself off, and thanked the people who served Miriam. She would never know who they were. And I would never know who she was…

As I finally moved to cross 7th Ave., a woman approached me.
“Is she going to be all right?”

I wanted the tears to well but I had none.
I don’t know, I said. I don’t know…

I got home and had a difficult time cooking. My mind was elsewhere.

I Googled Miriam Joyce Foss. I found so many hits and nothing conclusively her. I searched for an hour.

Who is Miriam Joyce Foss? And where is she now?

I ask these questions again and again. I was so frustrated that there is no answer for me. It’s worse that there’s an answer out there, and I just don’t get to know!

I had invested in her life. I wanted closure.

Was she the 66-year-old daughter of a rabbi in Maryland who passed on in 2015?
Or is she living in Manhattan amongst us today?

Without certainty, we feel our insignificance. When we don’t get to know, we feel ungodly. We feel angry at a God who would make us lesser, if He’s even out there. This anger and frustration follows us throughout our lives in myriad incarnations.

To accept is the only mature healing that can be done. Our position is not one of knowing. For that, we must let go.

It’s so painful, but then knowing doesn’t give us control over the outcome, in any case. We’d still stew. Acceptance stops the stewing. It grounds us in who we are, where we are. It equips us with greater resources of heart to give. It’s the one crucial remedy to that which is out of control. Acceptance is the very bandwidth we give ourselves to give.

I pray for Miriam Joyce Foss and I strive to accept my humble position – no savior at all – just a more seasoned well-wisher, ready to help in any way I can if given the opportunity.

Hari Prasada Das

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