06 April 2011

Beggars and Choosers

Good morning, everyone.  Apologies for having taken so long to write my next post.

I really, really hate taking the bus to and from the city, so I will go to great lengths to avoid it.  There is no direct bus service from New Jersey to the Bronx, where my husband's main office is located, so he drives in every day, and I usually go with him.  He drops me at the subway on the way to his office.  Most Fridays, he has a very early meeting in Manhattan, so he leaves home at the crack of dawn.  To avoid taking the bus, and to get a lift directly to my office, I get up early and go along with him.

This can mean that I am sitting in the Starbucks across the street from my office at 7:00 on a Friday morning.  I get a huge skinny vanilla latte and a seat by the window.  I put on my headphones and pull out my knitting and knit for an hour.  And then I am still the first person in the office at 8.  No one in my office notices or cares.  But I have managed to avoid the bus, so I feel like I am ahead.

Last Friday morning, I was sitting in my window seat, knitting a sock for my son, sipping at my coffee, and watching people walk by on Broadway, when I was approached by an unkempt-looking man.  He had not bathed or shaved in a while, and his shoes were held together by duct tape.  He wore a jacket that was several sizes too big for his gaunt frame.  "Excuse me, miss," he said.  "Can you spare a dollar?"

I am often approached by people on the street asking for money, but it's a little unusual for something like that to happen indoors.  I heaved a sigh, put down my knitting, and reached for my purse.

He misinterpreted my sigh.  It was not a sigh of annoyance, but rather a sigh of pain (I am recovering from a broken shoulder, and picking up, putting down, and reaching for things is still difficult.  I don't wear my sling to work, so there are no outward and visible signs of my injury).  But a sigh is a sigh, and so he apologized.  "I'm sorry, miss.  Just a dollar.  I'm hungry, you see?"  He spread his arms wide, as if to demonstrate the breadth of his need.

I am not starving - that is obvious to anyone who looks at me.  I don't own a lot of fancy, expensive clothes, but I was neatly dressed.  I had a $5.00 cup of coffee in front of me that I had purchased not out of thirst, but expressly for the purpose of killing time.  I dug around in my purse and handed the man a dollar.  He executed a little bow of thanks and walked over to the counter, where he bought a muffin with my dollar and some other change he had in his pocket.  He then disappeared into the crowd on Broadway.

There was a well-dressed, executive-looking young man a couple of seats away from me, furiously typing away on his iPad.  He looked at me disapprovingly and said, "If you give money to guys like that, it just encourages them to come in here and disturb people."

I give money to "guys like that" all the time.  Not enormous amounts of money, but change or a single bill - whatever I have on hand.  Sometimes I take them up to the counter and purchase a meal for them myself.  Once I bought a pair of mittens for a woman who was huddled on the street.  When I worked near Grand Central Station, I went through a stretch where I bought lunch every day for a homeless man who sat outside the deli.  One of my coworkers told me that he resold the food to buy drugs.  I don't know whether that's true.  I just know that I am lucky to have what I have, and that my religion does not allow me to tolerate suffering, real or perceived, in other human beings.  I can't solve all the world's problems, but I can certainly spare a dollar now and then.

What I am knitting:  I am still working on a pair of socks for my son.  I have finished the first one and have moved on to the second, but progress is slow.  I am also knitting a gift for someone who reads this blog regularly, so I can't give you details until it's finished.

What's in the crock-pot:  Pot roast.  It's almost exactly the same as beef stew, but easier on the shoulder, because you don't have to cut the meat up into small pieces.  It's nice outside now, but by dinnertime it should be raining and cold, so this seemed like a pretty good plan.

What's in the future:  I am working on a short story, and I have signed up for an online writing class that starts in May.  Please wish me luck.



MamaMonki said...

Sending you luck! I think that your helping that man was incredibly sweet, no matter what anyone else says.

susan said...

Hi Jennie,
Glad to hear you are back with the needles. Sounds like your shoulder is on the mend. I wish you luck with your writing workshop. I am taking a weaving course and I am really enjoying it. It is almost meditative for me. Can't let the little things that niggle your mind get in the way when you are trying to thread the loom or wind the amount of yarn you need to do your project.
Please send Bobby and the rest of the Bravermans my love

Jennie said...

I think there are two good reasons to give to others and specifically including money to beggers (whether they will eat food for the first time that day because you gave them money, or they will do something less healthful with your generosity). First, it is good to give to others because they might use it for good-this is the belief in the goodness of others. It is so much better to believe that other people in the world are good (and you can still be prepared for the bad). Second, it is also good to give because it is better for you to be a generous person-it makes you a better person. Few lessons are better to teach your children than generosity. I am glad that you were there that morning to help that man and you rejected others' coldness and cynicism. Good luck tomorrow!

nalyn said...

So many blessings. knowing you are safe in starbucks. knowing you have the heart of giving. knowing you have food cooking. knowing you can make me smile just seeing a new blog title. knowing you are touching others with your written and spoken words and actions. knowing you love me. knowing you are healing and healing others in your moments of charity.
So many blessings...

Jennie said...

I just want to point out to my readers that the comment above, which looks like it was posted by me, was actually posted by my husband on our home computer (to which I was already signed in). If you know he wrote that, you now understand why I adore him so.

The real Jennie

Sandra said...

You warmed my heart.

Laura D. said...

First off: online writing class sounds EXCELLENT. keep us posted.

Second: about the begging thing.
I flash back immediately to the 80s pre-Giuliani clean-up, pre-the Disney-fication of Times Sq, before the subway cars were de-graffitied. (Wow, were those actual words? LOL)

ANYWAY, I think this is coming back: the homeless, the beggars, the "scene" on subway cars or in the dark spaces of NY. And the fact that we DON'T discuss this more--that we DON'T talk about this conflict of giving and taking and ignoring...seems so strange. Am I wrong? Do we think Ipad man in the Starbucks expects something for his buck--a little song perhaps? A shoe shine? What? An explanation for why they are there? We are a world so frackin' self-involved that we just tune out what's right in front of us. And don't we have a right to get downright irritated when someone "dares" get into our coffee space?!


How can we sit and look at those less fortunate and be like Ipad guy? I think it's fine that you gave to the guy not because you felt altruistic or even that you were sure he wouldn't use the cash for drugs but rather because how could you NOT give when, as you say, you're sitting there in a coffee joint blowing 5 bucks on a cup!?

You're telling me that Ipad guy can look the hungry guy in the face and then slurp the latte--and somehow not THINK about what that--about what their being there together--means? Hey, this is the crux of the party split, ain't it? The haves and have-nots, the GOP and the DEMS, the givers and the takers. Somehow your post triggers a maelstrom of thought and emotion in me about this subject. I have struggled with the idea of facing off the homeless, the beggars, the insistent beggars (there is a difference), and the like. In my 20s and 30s I'd write poems to deal with my feelings on the topic. I have a whole set of poems--seriously--devoted to some of the guys who asked me for money or food, who sold Street News or played music in the subway, or the guy and his crack pipe in my part of the Port Authority bus stop (those 2 yrs I lived in Jersey) who would just stare and stare at me. Or was it through me? Who could tell? I remember inviting one familiar homeless woman from college to eat at least once a week and then inviting her to shower in our suite at the dorm--and then realizing we COULDN'T really do that--we'd crossed some kind of line. And yet--I wanted to help--but I stopped.

A month ago I just went through Penn Station and the homeless, smelling the place, were sleeping two across in some areas. Incredible how the crowd shuffles on. How we all stop--and turn away more than we pay. I admit: I keep on moving most of the time. Unlike Ipad guy I don't complain about the people taking up MY space with their problems--but I surely don't unfold a dollar bill for every beggar I see. Not even close. I have 3 kids and a mortgage and it just isn't sensible for me to give lots of money to strangers, right?

Thanks for posting and getting my head all fired up.

Rev. K.T. said...

sometimes I forget that I am blessed and that I can make a difference. But you and a few other friends of mine remind me that even the poorest among us (which is not me) can live generously. A few years ago my kids got to hold buckets at the Walmart doors to raise money for their cheerleading team. People would come out and drop in a quarter or a dime and sometimes even a dollar. But I was always put to shame when I looked at some of the migrant workers who would come out and share what they had. Suddenly I realized I was looking at things all wrong. It's not what I don't have, it's what I do have.

erin f said...

Hi Jennie, I come here every so often when I have the time and enjoy reading your perspective. I'm glad I read this one as I am touched by your choice to give and I so deeply agree with you. If we could all take those single moments as they come, the world would be a better place. I believe when your giving comes from the place in your heart with pure intention, you are only doing a good thing. Hope your shoulder keeps getting better!