I walk 10 blocks from my office to Grand Central Station. This is normally very fast paced without much attention paid to my surroundings. Because of my hip injury I have been forced to slow down and as a consequence I am paying more attention to things and people along the way.
Last week as I walked up Madison Avenue, I noticed that there were 6 beggars (what is the correct word to use?) in those 10 blocks. I was shocked and saddened. Some of those faces I had seen before, but most were totally new.
What is their stories? Where are their families? Are they mentally ill? sick? homeless? Or do they have fully furnished apartments somewhere and just enjoy this lifestyle? I guess I would love to think that the answer is the latest, but it is unlikely.
I am ashamed to say that I am tempted not to walk on Madison Avenue anymore and just use Park Avenue. One block away and there are no beggars. The reason why I am tempted to avoid the beggars is because I am at a loss of what to do. I have written about it before. Do I give money, food, or do I just ignore them and go along with my life?
I think that what they need most is perhaps a friendly smile and conversation. I decided to try to talk to the ones that seem receptive. So far I have managed to speak to only one. I am afraid of some of the others. I think I have mentioned in a past post how, many years ago, I approached a man laying on the side walk to hand him a plate of food and he yelled at the top of his lungs for me to leave him alone. Frankly it scared and scarred me! At that moment I thought that perhaps is not my right to interfere with anyone’s life unless they asked me directly.
This is Milton. He was pleasantly surprised when I asked to take a picture of him. I explained it was for my blog.
Milton sits in a wheelchair at the entrance of a store that has been closed down. I asked him where he sleeps and he said that when he gets enough money he sleeps in a hotel around the corner. He said he worked in that hotel for many years before and they are nice to him. He mentioned that the city of New York is lining up an apartment for him to move in in August.
I am curious about his situation, but I am not going to bombard him with too many questions at this point. He said he came from Virginia with the dream of making it big in the city, but due to severe arthritis he has been wheelchair bound and unable to work. Do I complete believe that? I don’t know, but I decided it is not my right to question or judge him. I think that is his truth and is that is good enough for me.
He is so friendly and warm, always with a smile on his face. Today I asked him if he drinks. He said: “I am not going to lie to you, I normally have a beer in the afternoon, but never this early” (it was 9 am). I gave him a few dollars and asked that my money be used to buy food or clothing, but not to drink. He said okay.
I approached him the first time because he seemed safe, non-threatening. He was not talking to himself or yelling at the world. He didn’t smell of alcohol or drugs. He was actually sleeping the first time I approached him, I had not realized that until I said hello and I startled him. Even when startled he responded with a smile.
I may have approached him also perhaps because of the wheelchair. My father had to have one of his legs amputated, and every man I see in a wheelchair I imagine that man could be my father and I wish more than anything that people treat him as they would treat any able-bodied man. And because my father is elderly I wish that people also treat him with respect and kindness.
That is perhaps the reason that I try to be extra kind to elders. Living so far from my parents, I figure the way I treat the older people I encounter gets translated into the way others treat my parents. A Universe paying back type of thing.
Speaking of older people, once again I am encountering road blocks in my attempt to volunteer at a nursing home, similar to my attempt at the nursing home at the hospital. I wonder if the road blocks are a sign saying this is not for me or perhaps it is to test my perseverance in wanting to help.
…but getting back to my original idea when I started writing this post. Are there more beggars in NY city now? or perhaps I have only now started paying attention. Is this increase in beggars in New York reflective of the economy? is money at the core? or perhaps drug and alcohol are the main culprits. Families not taking care of their own? individuals giving up? the mentally ill not having appropriate care? not enough jobs, no access to education and healthcare…
At the end of the day, there is no escape, be it in NY or Sao Paulo there needs to be more done for this entire segment of the population. The high taxes we pay need to go to the right areas.
and what am I doing? what should I be doing?
I am blessed and I know it (we are all blessed but some are blind to it) While I plan skiing vacations, some don’t know where they will lay their head this very night. While I sit at a fancy restaurant, some don’t know where their next meal is coming from. While I cry about not having a boyfriend, some just wish for a friendly smile.
Today I asked Milton if he thought life was good. He said: “yes, it is very good, thinking otherwise is not going to help”. I said to him: “If you don’t have everything you love , love everything you have”(not sure whose quote this is). He thought that was the best thing he ever heard. He said he is going to memorize it and remember it often. oh and he also said I looked so good today, he said I looked like I was going to a party with all my bling. I did dress up a little more than usual today and it is always nice to get a compliment! 🙂
I have a feeling I am going to miss Milton when he moves to his new apartment!
“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson