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The Miracle on 80th Street 

Zabar's on the Upper West Side as seen

Zabar's on the Upper West Side as seen in January 2016. Credit: Linda Rosier

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I've spent the week in New York, and no visit happens without a trip to Zabar's, a specialty food store on Broadway and 80th Street. A destination for tourists as well as locals, Zabar's was less frenetic than you'd expect around the holidays, but still, there were people.

Anyhow, when I unloaded my basket at one of the cramped checkout stations, I couldn't find my wallet. Panicked, I fumbled around my bag looking for my cards. And even though shoppers were backed up in my line, the cashier told me to take my time and go through pockets, etc. No luck. I found cash set aside for something else to cover the purchase.

I assumed someone had lifted my wallet but decided to wander the store one last time, hoping I had dropped it somewhere. Suddenly, my first name came booming out of a loudspeaker, with orders to come to the front. They had found my wallet.

Actually, the cashier had spotted it on the floor. An honest woman could have just turned it over to the supervisor, but she did more than that. She personally made sure my wallet and I were reunited. I joyfully thanked her and thought, "This was a miracle."

But was it? It was an example of extraordinary kindness shown every day by countless essential workers doing their tough jobs in the jaws of a pandemic. Many, like the cashier, are immigrants, keeping the COVID-crippled city alive.

My little drama centered on possibly lost credit cards, while these less-secure workers faced potential loss of their economic lifelines. Worse, many have suffered human losses as the deadly virus takes away friends and family. Still, they show up no matter what.

Christmas movies often revolve around distressed characters finding enormous humanity in the heart of the seemingly soulless city. A classic is the 1947 "Miracle on 34th Street." It's about an eccentric Macy's Santa who nearly gets committed to a mental hospital because he believes he is really Santa Claus. In the end, Kris Kringle breaks through the cynicism of adult and child alike — and proves himself good for business.

No one will forget this holiday season. You see a few visitors, some with children, looking at the diminished sights along eerily quiet avenues. The city seems torn between getting people into stores and keeping them socially distanced. The spectacular snowflake light display that usually flies above 57th Street and Fifth Avenue is not there, presumably to discourage congregating.

But the city did not lack for sentiment this holiday season. A worker helping erect the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center found a tiny owl perched inside. The creature may have slept as his home was being moved 200 miles into the heart of Gotham. "Rockefeller" was rescued and later released at an upstate wildlife refuge. Cameras, of course, rolled.

After my wallet adventure, I took a bus across town to an Italian restaurant to pick up a food order. Like lots of New York restaurants, its Latino staff had kept the place running under wild circumstances.

Lusardi's had followed all the rules: It set tables far apart. It took names for virus tracing. It kept a big container of hand sanitizer on the bar. Yet the state had just closed indoor dining, again.

"Unfair," I said.

"They're trying to kill us," an employee answered.

For some reason, I shifted the conversation, reciting the name of a famous Spanish play remembered from class: "La Vida Es Sueno." Life is a dream.

He then said that he gives thanks for every minute he's alive — every minute. Yes, miracles big and small do abound, and this gray season will pass.

Froma Harrop wrote this piece for Creators Syndicate.

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