WASHINGTON — New York was full of kind strangers two weeks before Christmas, even as the omicron variant was coming to town.

A police officer in the 14th Street subway saw me carrying two travel bags and without a word, swiped me in free with a smile.

Just moments earlier, I chatted with two outgoing young men at a juice bar. They extolled the strong ginger shots and gulped them down as a daily ritual.

“My treat,” one said. “Try it.”

“Next time,” I said, feeling a buzzy jolt of Christmas cheer, sorry I had to board the train back to the political wars in Washington.

As a journalist in the Capitol press gallery when the mob held Congress under siege on Jan. 6, I carried some scars on my shoulders the rest of the year.

The coup de grace came in the elevator in my college friend’s apartment building on Riverside Park. We were set to walk across Central Park that Sunday afternoon and go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I was wearing my best coat, a London leopard print, trying not to look like a country cousin. An elegant woman, Maxine, in the elevator said she had a coat she thought would look good on me.

When we returned hours later, a beautiful coat was hanging on M’s doorknob. It fit me perfectly. It was my Christmas coat.

What was in the air? A California friend said, “you radiate good karma.” Another said, “restorative kindness.”

The unbidden encounters might be just luck. But I don’t think so. What struck me was that none made much ado of being generous. They just acted easily, as if it was totally natural to befriend a stranger.

And it did me a world of good. No kidding, New York felt like a drink of cold well water after the Capitol’s parched clime. The high spirits of social democracy were at play. This was more like it, America.

The Capitol, which I frequent on both House and Senate sides, now feels like an armed camp. Things were bad before Jan. 6, don’t get me wrong. But the near-misses of the violent marauders – tens of thousands of them – colored the place with party fury, fear and frustration at record levels.

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump (for the Jan. 6 riot) sapped any bipartisan goodwill left to greet a new president.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s dramatic betrayal of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better social policy deal was the bitter end to the most bitter draft of American politics since the Civil War broke out. The rioters were Confederates.

Without fully knowing it, I carried a case of battle fatigue to New York.

It’s no secret that New Yorkers suffered greatly during the pandemic’s first wave in 2020. Many were confined indoors in smaller spaces. Street life was all but dead.

The city came through it, sailing and shining. The lines into the Met flooded the steps. An Afro-futurist period room, co-curated by another college friend, was the rage. The neighborhood diner was booming, with proof of vaccination required. Cheese blintzes were the order of the day. Earlier, the Broadway church service bonded all kinds and made me teary for the year’s losses.

Did I see the last December dance before another long, hard winter? Nobody knows what’s next. We’re in an age of unpleasant surprises.

What I do know: I was warmed by the kindness of others in New York. The city’s heart of gold may hide under a gruff manner. But it’s there, perhaps softened by the social desert wrought by the coronavirus.

One more count against Trump: His rude, brash hucksterism was often chalked up to being an iconic New York type. Nah. He’s a pariah in New York and hangs out in Florida, where the water’s warmer for his type.

New York’s humanity was on display in the days before Christmas. I’ve got the coat to prove it, catching the joy of living.

Jamie Stiehm writes on politics and history. She may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit Creators.com

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