I have spent most of my life working in Manhattan. I even lived there for six years after college. I’m street smart. I know what neighborhoods are OK to be in by myself and which are not. I know how to walk quickly, with my head down. I know not to make eye contact. I know how to squeeze into a packed subway car. I know where to stand on the platform so I don’t get pushed on to the tracks. I know not to stop at the top (or the bottom) of the escalator. I know how to make my way through a crowd at rush hour without bumping into anyone. And I know to ignore people asking for money.
Everywhere you go in the city, people ask for money. Sometimes they have a whole story they recite. “I’m a single mother trying to take care of my kids. My husband beat me so I left.” “I lost my apartment in Hurricane Sandy and can’t find work because of my disability.” “I was robbed and am trying to get enough money to get home.” Sometimes they have a sign asking “Can you help me out with anything?” And sometimes they just stand silently holding out their hand or an old coffee container.
Only tourists and out-of-towners are taken in. The rest of us know it’s a scam.
So why have I begun looking for Will everyday just so I can give him a dollar? I know his name is Will because I asked him. Am I nuts talking to this guy! Everybody knows you don’t engage these people in conversation. But something about him makes me want to say “Good morning. How are you today?” Maybe it’s the way he sits quietly with his back against the subway tiles, his luggage wheels with all his stuff next to him. Maybe it’s because he smiles and says “I’m doin’ OK. Thanks.” Maybe it’s because he has a friendly conversation with a number of commuters who stop to speak with him everyday. Maybe it’s the little beagle he has with him and the way he has her bundled up in a dog bed with a blanket to keep her warm.
Maybe you would say, “Don’t give him money. He’ll only use it for (fill in the blank). Give him food.” I’ve asked him if he’s hungry and he said, “Not today thanks. People have been giving lots to eat today.” And I noticed that he always has a variety of stuff (apples, snacks, sandwiches, bottles of juice and water, dog treats) that people give him. So I give him a dollar.
I have no idea how much he collects in a day. I have no idea how he uses it. But it is not for me to say if he is deserving. I can’t, I won’t be his judge. Something gave me a little push toward this man. God, Spirit, my conscience, I don’t know. But something told me to reach out to him. I have no expectations that my actions will make any difference. But they may. I have no way of knowing. All I can do is follow that little push and believe.