Tzadikim Nistarim

There is a tradition in mystical Judaism that there are 36 Hidden Righteous Ones on Earth. 

Because of them, God allows the world to continue. 

They do not know who they are, and according to tradition, if you think you are one, you most definitely are not.  

I have not written about anyone in, say, Ivory Coast, or Brazil, or Turkey,

only because the culture of the U.S. is the only one I know well.  


She is a clerk in a store that sells pet toys, tropical fish, little coats and boots for dogs, kitty litter and litter pans of various kinds, bird cages and dogfood and catfood by the can or bag or case lot.  She spends most of her working day standing at a cash register adding up purchases and calculating exchanges and returns. People tell her about the problems they have getting their elderly dogs to eat and about how their cats regurgitate all but one special food that’s hard to find. She always listens carefully and with deep sympathy. When she goes home at night, if her husband is home (he is a truck driver), they make supper together and usually they watch sports or animal programs on television, though sometimes they play cards.  On Saturday evenings, they get together with neighbors:  sometimes for a potluck and a video, sometimes for pizza and a movie in a theater. Their daughter, who is a nurse in a hosptial in Haiti, calls every Wednesday. Their son died when he was a baby, so Hospice relies on her to sit with people whose young children are terminally ill.


He is a retired farmer who enjoys training young horses to work in the woods. He takes long walks in the morning on the country road where he lives with his wife who works as a school secretary. He waves at every car that passes whether he knows the driver or not, and he speaks with everyone who is walking or bicycling on the road. He has leased his land and his big barn to a young couple who have a small herd of goats and who hope eventually to buy the property. He helps them, sometimes, when they ask for help. He still sings in the choir of the Reformed Church he has attended since he was a child. His own children, three girls and two boys, are not interested in farming or religion, and have moved away to nearby cities. He is very proud of them and when they come home to visit, he always enjoys his time with them.


She has taught kindergarten for thirty-five years. Some of her current students are the children of some of her first students. She knits mittens and hats and keeps them in a box in her classroom for children who need them. In the winter, she has a basket of little tangerines on her desk for the children to take whenever they’d like. She lives alone in a small house near the school, and in the summer she enjoys seeing the children walking past to play in the school playground. In her yard are five bird feeders and three bird baths, one of which is heated in the winter. She also feeds a possum, five gray squirrels and, she thinks, a skunk, though she has never seen it. She grows flowers in a small patch of ground behind her house and brings bunches of them to the old people who live on her street. Although she was raised Catholic, she considers herself a pagan. When the moon is full, she stands in her backyard in her bare feet (in the summer; in winter she wears her boots) and whispers an old Irish prayer she learned when she was a girl.


He is a barrista in a small-town coffee shop. He is large and tattooed and takes medicine for anxiety. He lives in a two room apartment over a bookshop. He does not sleep well. He remembers his customers and what they like to drink. He is not sure if he believes in a god, but he prays over the drinks as he makes them, one by one, with great care. People tell him he makes the best espresso in town. People tell him their troubles and he listens. He often gives coffee and muffins to homeless people and subtracts the cost from his salary.


She is a retired English professor. Her husband has dementia and she is still able to care for him at home. Since she can’t often go out, people visit her, and she serves them homemade cookies and tea. A book group meets at her house once a month. There are six people in the group. They are rereading the classics. Three times each week, when the respite care-giver comes for two hours, she usually goes for a long walk and has coffee in a coffee shop she likes before she buys groceries or runs other errands.  Her two sons did not approve of this second marriage, and do not call, but she writes to them every week, simply describing the weather and the books she has read.  She has always had a green thumb, but now has no garden. Her houseplants are astonishingly beautiful, and she shares cuttings with everyone who asks.


He is an artist. He paints single colors on large canvases because he loves colors. No one has ever bought one of his paintings, so he stacks them in a room in the large house where he lives with his husband and their six cats. He teaches art in a high school and two elementary schools. Three of his former students are now well known. Since his husband is a doctor who works long hours, he is also the primary house-keeper. He enjoys hosting dinners for the neighbors, all of them, even the ones who didn’t approve. Now they do.

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