Once upon the day before Thanksgiving: My head rests against the wood panel adjoining the train seat. I’m so tired. My sleepy eyes flutter open and close, open and close. And in comes a man I’ve seen before in trains. I couldn’t remember his story, the one that so many individuals pitch to train passengers for donations. Sometimes no matter how good a story may be, money doesn’t flow into cans, hats, or guitar cases. Needless to say, I wasn’t interested in hearing his story nor was I in the mood to give any money.
Today the man was wearing black dress pants, a tie, and an ID card with his photo and some words indicating what I presume to be his occupation. As he paced down the train car his smelly odor penetrated the air, a mix of sweat and old clothes. He placed his black duffel bag stuffed with Doritos chips and snacks on the ground. Then projecting his voice throughout the entire car, the man began to start a one-sided conversation with the passengers. He inquired, “Folks if you can please donate a dollar, or even 25 cents to our mission. There are people today that cannot afford a Thanksgiving meal. As you all travel to be with your families please remember some people cannot be with their families. We wanna help those in our community who cannot afford a Thanksgiving meal.” He was accompanied by another young man dressed more casually. This man shook the money can which returned an all too familiar sound of coins jingling inside a train of passive, pensive passengers.
The man circled around the train with no hope of a single coin or dollar. It was already decided the minute he entered the train, as eyes evaluated, judgments were made, and people settled into a less than generous mood. There would be no donations today.
As the man waited for the next train stop to begin his pitch all over again, his glum face caught my attention. He stared straight through the opposite train doors without taking a second look at the faces of those he hoped would help him just a few seconds ago. Two brochures fell out of his pocket. I wasn’t quite sure what they said (I transferred at the following stop). But I was surprised he never picked them up. Perhaps I had caught the man in a moment where he lost all hope for his mission. Or maybe his story was all a lie and the brochures on the ground was evidence to prove it.
The man walked out of the train and the only thing that remained was my questions. I wondered if I had made the right decision in not offering any money to the man. I contemplated if his story was true. I mean, could it be true? Or maybe I was just a victim of pre-Thanksgiving guilt. I was obligated to participate in random acts of kindness because it was the day before Thanksgiving.
But there was one thing for sure. I had a motivation to actually help. It was the kind of inspiration that you could only get from the innermost part of your heart that wills you to do good works. Later that Thanksgiving Day, I turned on my remote to NY1 news. About 700 volunteers served up home-cooked meals at the Bowery Mission, an organization helping the homeless and at-risk, underserved youth, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Vivian Lee, a NY1 reporter and volunteer stated, “Given what’s been happening in the economy of the last few years, being part of the news and seeing the front lines of that, actually, how many different realities and traunches of society have been affected by this, it just makes me feel like we all have a part to help out those that are less fortunate.”
Today the homeless and the hungry can be seen and often easily overlooked. A man sifting through a garbage can and a woman nursing her baby while sitting on the Subway ground can be just a tiny part of our quick New York minute. We spend a lot of our energy commuting, working, learning, and trying to survive in this concrete jungle. However, there are more important things which are part and parcel of the meaning to be thankful. Feeding and helping those in need have become ways to discover the true value of the holiday season so that a dinner with your family becomes all the more special. And when you take the time to help, goodness will come back to you in some forms evident and others in disguise.