Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

The other day, I ran into my neighbor Matthew Sporzynski in the elevator. When he asked how I was doing, I let slip that I was on my way to way to have a scary test to check out my heart. “I’m sure it’ll be fine” I said, betraying my nervousness.

After several hours of Fringe-like tests involving isotopes in a freezing room, I wobbled home to find a white cardboard take-out container outside my apartment door. Inside was a cobalt-blue lens box that said SCHNEIDER (my name). Four key rings were nestled in it, each with a tag printed in French: APPARTEMENT, ATELIER, LETTRES, and RESIDENCE SECONDAIRE. There was a red leather cat collar with a bell –  an unexpected bracelet – and an orange business card said “Couturier de Cardboard”, which meant the gift was from Matthew, who is an amazing paper artist with a rare sensibility.

Matthew’s gift had the effect of taking me out of my worried, tired head in an instant (while inspiring a sweet, momentary fantasy of an atelier and a residence secondaire.) It said, in the most un-Hallmark way possible:  “Someone is thinking about you and hopes you feel better.” And sure enough, I did feel better.

It reminded me of the times when I wasn’t sure how to respond to the dire need of another: a friend dealing with cancer or a loved-one dying. And I remembered a little book I saw recently called Do Good: 201 Ways to Lend a Hand written by Marci Silverman and Cindi Sacks. It is a book of ideas of simple things to do for someone who is having a rough time, or is frightened or exhausted from a long siege. It is written from experience: Marci’s husband suffers from ALS, a life-threatening and deeply debilitating disease. The book inspires ideas and affirms ones you may have had, but might have been shy about doing. (You can take a good look inside the book here.)

“Often, we don’t realize that what may seem like a small gesture or an insignificant act to us can actually make a meaningful difference in someone’s life.”

That “small gesture” can be all sorts of things…like the Couturier de Cardboard’s amazingly healing gift…(the heart’s fine, btw)…


Note: I asked Matthew where he found the little gifts he gave me and his answer speaks volumes about the nature of resourcefulness…That sometimes when we find something, we don’t yet know what it’s for... It expands the idea of what a gift might be…

“The box was found in the garbage on 22nd Street. It was poking out of a bag and it caught my eye. When I saw “Schneider” I knew it would be a nice thing for you.

The cat collar was from a Salvation Army thrift store somewhere.  Even if there’s just “skulch*” merchandise, you can sometimes pull something cool out of a bin. I can rarely pass up something old and unused.

(* “Skulch” is my friend Barbara Mann’s term for low-quality stuff.  She had an antique business in New Hampshire for many years.)

The key tags come from the BHV in Paris.  They are from the shoe-repair section of the hardware department.  What is chicer than having a “RESIDENCE SECONDAIRE?”

Note: We’ll be posting about Matthew’s paper art soon (with lots of photos)…

Thanks, Matthew!!

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

10 replies on “what to do when someone’s in trouble

  1. Oh, I love this! What a wonderful person that Matthew is. I look forward to looking through that book and thank you for the link. I so love your blog…

  2. So glad to hear you are not only ok, but have such a wonderfully thoughtful neighbor!

    I’m going to try to find that book at my local library.

  3. Thank you Elizabeth, for your kind words about the blog. And yeah, Matthew is a wonderful, original and incredibly generous person. I am lucky to know him. I look forward to posting some of his work.

  4. I’m Matthew’s mom, in Michigan. What a wonderful thing to read about my son! Thank you! He’s always been his own person – from the beginning. Like the time when he was about four and asked to deliver valentines to our neighbors. I had assumed he was going next door, but he was gone for what seemed like a long time, so, rather worried, I went out looking for him. He had gone all around the block – he knew he couldn’t cross the street but covered all four sides of the block without doing that. He’s a very nice mystery.

  5. Yes! Matthew is a wonderful, thoughtful and creative person. I, too have received a gift in my name. A heavy box that arrived unannounced to my apt. in Paris and whose contents produced a street sign! Humbert Ave. And yes, I did have something to do with Matthew’s discovery of the BHV.

  6. Well, glad to meet you Jennifer!. Matthew told me about BHV when I was on the way to Paris and admired the incredible straps he uses to carry his big green portfolio on his back. I spent hours there and am meaning to write a post about it – they even have horse shoes – as soon as I can nail Matthew down to take a picture. He is elusive. I think there is a secret club of people Matthew has given his gifts to. And that story his mom told about him as a kid…And actually, the way I met him was: I was standing in the vestibule of my building with a friend trying to figure out how to get a 10-foot painting up to my apartment because it wouldn’t fit in the elevator. Matthew, who was a complete stranger, asked us if we needed help carrying it up the stairs. Which he did!

  7. If we’re telling Matthew stories…
    after meeting my sister, Kathy, he sent her a set of pencils embossed with “I’m the big sister” (she sure is).
    And Joyce- I still have a beautiful spiky gold ornament that you made- the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

  8. what a sweet genuine gesture, the kind of thing that only movies and dreams are made of.
    i came in search of finding about matthew through his paperwork..only to find something much more.. : ) thank you for sharing

  9. Hi,
    There is so much I want to say in response to this column, all starting with a big Thank You:
    1.I just found out yesterday that a dear friend who lives at a distance is coming to the end of a long battle with cancer. We are very sad and much in need of ways to reach out to both his wife (also a dear friend) and him.
    2.Matthew is inspiring – his thoughtfulness and his work. I loved reading his mom’s response. Would she be willing to share the torte recipe?
    3.I too love BHV, have told many others about it and spend hours in the lower level when we are in Paris. The shoe care kiosk is my all- time favorite – all those shoe trees…
    4.Thank you for the apricots in cardamom syrup recipe – am looking forward to trying it – and sharing it.
    5.Concrete cloth – what a great idea!
    6. Most of all, thank you for this blog – it’s the first place I go when I open my computer in the morning. Today was especially important to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *