On this hot Monday morning in New York City as my routine always is, I got up early, got dressed, got on my train heading downtown, and was off to work. For having been in the city only a few months, I’ve picked up an astounding amount of traits that distinguish New Yorkers from the rest of the world. A professional at dodging through the agonizingly slow tourists, speed-walking in heels, and accumulating what some might call an unhealthy addiction to coffee, there is one trait that I’ve managed to pick up that absolutely anyone who lives in any city knows all too well: the ability to ignore homeless people. On every corner and sidewalk, subway station and train stop, they sit in their uniform filthy cloths and rancid perfume, their sad eyes pistols shooting at your heartstrings. But under nearly every New Yorker’s black and white or grey outfit is a bullet-proof vest. Grown from within, emerging from our skin, this armor makes our humanity unreachable by our daily encounters. On our way to work, taking our children to school, or going to the grocery store, we pass these human beings that we often mistake for rats in the streets. One Monday, just as any other day, I got off my train at 34th Street: Penn Station. Climbing out of the underground, I pick up my speed. Like horses, my heels clacking as they make contact with the gum-stained sidewalk.
As I begin to pass the old US Post Office, out of the corner of my eye I see movement. I slow just enough to notice an old man, dark skin and grey hair. He wears a torn suit stained with what was probably dust and dirt from the ground he slept on that night. His brittle hands clung to a walker, his back crooked; this man was too weak to even lift his head so that I might see his piercing eyes. Without noticing it, my feet were still moving, rushing to get to work on time. A moment later I passed the fruit stand man, whom I may add I had quite a distaste for. His rudeness and pushiness was enough to get on anyone’s nerves. But for a brief moment I struggled with myself, debating whether or not to halt my seemingly uncontrollable feet. Time running out to decide as I moved closer to the stand, the jockey in me tugged at the reigns and the clicking of my heels stopped. In a rushed daze I asked how much for a banana and I handed the man fifty cents, turned on my toes, and rushed back to the old man who could barely move. Gently I held out the banana to him, and his brittle fingers slowly grasped it. For the first time, his head lifted so that his eyes might look into mine, my armor ready for the blow. But not one bullet hit. His pistols were nothing but empty black holes, without life or movement. His body shook as he used every ounce of his nonexistent strength to whisper the words, “Thank you.” With a knot in my throat and my eyesight beginning to blur, I gently moved back and turned to release my horses out of the gate.
Since that day, I do not often pass a homeless person without first buying them a meal.