Yesterday morning was one of those “I just can’t get my act together” morns. I was just arriving to the train station I should have been at some thirty minutes ago. That kind of morning.
At the foot of the escalator to the train station, I notice a fellow commuter put something in the hand of a young man standing there. He is asking for money for breakfast. Emphasizing that it really was for food, he was hungry.
By the time I reach him three others with their heads averted have blown past him in the typical New Yorker “invisible beggars are invisible” fashion. Normally, I would be among them, but something about the kid, he could not have been more than thirteen, reaches out to me. Before he starts asking, I have stepped to he side, reaching for my wallet. As I dig in my bag a woman just shy of flies between us, ducking away as though the boy had leprosy. It was beyond rude how she did it. His hurt expression said it all. He clearly didn’t want to be there and she must have been the last straw for him. Head down he started to turn to walk away.
I don’t know what came over me.
“He is still a human being you know!” I yelled up the woman, “May you continue to be blessed in your life so you may never learn what it must take to do this.” The boy and the woman both stopped and looked at me. She was on the escalator, but her expression was murderous as it lifted her away.
“Thank you, miss.” he said, still hurt, accepting the bill I held out without looking at it.
“Enjoy your breakfast honey. You’ll be alright.” I stepped onto the escalator and waited for it…
“THANK YOU MISS! Now I don’t have to share half a McDonald’s with my little sister. I can get cereal and milk and she can have her own. Thank yoooooooou!” I hear him yell, the gratitude in his voice totally free of the hurt.
I look out of the windows as the escalator rose and sure enough he ran across the street to the grocery store. I was already late for work, but once I reach the top, I wait at the side windows. A few minutes later he came out carrying grocery bags with a gallon of milk and what looked like two boxes of cereal, half running up the block. I smile.
“How much did you give him?!” I hear a voice right behind me. I turn and it is the woman I yelled at minutes before.
“Just $5, not enough for all of that. He must have been there for a few minutes asking. You couldn’t even be so bothered as to even look at the child. Did you even realize that was a child? What do you care?” I ask annoyed.
“You reminded me, that I haven’t always been this ‘blessed’. I was coming back to see if he was still here to give him some money.” She takes three dollars out of her purse and hands it to me. “Split what you gave him?”
“Keep it. You’re getting on the subway, there will be other someones who needs it. Give it to them.” I say walking away, but then I stop. “Just do yourself a favor and look the person begging. You may still choose to dismiss 99% of them – just as I know I will, but at least look at them for a moment so you don’t miss the chance of the 1% who will be truly be grateful for it. And you feeling grateful for having to chance to do it.”
As I say the word grateful, I realize I am just as grateful that I took a chance with him. I think about the boy -and the little sister I didn’t know existed until he mentioned her- about to sit down and have some cereal. I don’t know their story, I just know that instead of one split meal, at least for the next couple of days they have breakfast. I am grateful for my small part in that.
I just have one question now: Who the hell is this nice person I am turning into? Ugh!