Myth: Talking to homeless people or people holding a sign panhandling is scary and dangerous.
All they want is money. They are rude. Ungrateful.
Truth: While there are outliers in life where the WORST POSSIBLE THING you imagine COULD happen: getting struck by lightning, your plane crashing, or the movie Jaws playing out in real life (and you're not the shark..)
MOST encounters with someone that is homeless is actually quite normal, and they respond how you probably would if roles were reversed.
This morning on my commute into the city, I saw a woman sitting on a very busy corner. One of the epicenters of Manhattan, NY: Greely Square. Right next to the iconic Miracle on 34th st, Macy's, and in the shadow of the grandeur that is the Empire State Building. What feels like half of the city's 9 million people rushing by, heads down, most with headphones in, focused on what the day has in store ahead of them... but then there is this lady.
Not moving. Stagnant you may say. Stagnant in a way that happens when you see a river rushing by, mighty rapids, but then off to the edge is this swirling bunch of water that just looks strangely stuck. Out of place. LIke, how does it get there? How does it stay there? The current directly next to it keeps going, how does it not get caught up in the rush of forward momentum?
It doesn't make sense... but there it stays.
She was sitting on an old milk crate. Not comfortable. A makeshift sign, with words written on a well-worn old box fragment, using a borrowed black sharpie that told a story of abuse, failure, and now despair.
Swirling. Day after day. Stuck.
She looks up from the half-completed crossword puzzle she was working on because, in reality, it's WAYYYY too painful to look up as people look down on you every second, minute, hour, and day.
"I don't have anything to give today, but I just wanted to say hi and wish you a wonderful day."
The curiosity of what my words would bring quickly turns into delight in her entire face.Her shoulders relax, she lets out her slightly held breath in a relief that doesn't really make sense because of the simplicity of the action and words, then reply's back:
"Thank you, I really appreciate that. You have a great day too. God bless."
You (and I) never know what it is going to take to unsettle the stagnant water on the edge of a powerful river. Possibly a storm comes in that brings enough rain to disrupt the trajectory of the river path or perhaps a massive tree falls down upstream and while floating by it clears out the stuck spot.
But potentially it doesn't take something as catastrophic or expansive as either of those scenarios...
Maybe, just maybe, a family with a young child are walking by on a trail that parallels the mighty river when out of nowhere the innocent joy of that young child leads them to pick up a rock and throw it into the stagnant place - giving it just the amount ripple that was needed to change the flow of the river, letting loose all the idle water.
Does a simple greeting of hello fix everyone and all of the hurt, pain, abuse, neglect, and failure that they carry around?
But, seeing the relief that came with an untethered greeting of hello to a lonely woman in the middle of millions of people rushing by gives me hope that it COULD be that little pebble that was needed break the chains of injustice and untie the yoke of oppression...
And that my friends make it worth it to keep trying.
Will you join me? It could be as simple as hello and a smile.
Let's start with that and we can grow from there.
Cheers everyone! Have a wonderful day! :)
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