Earlier this year, which is a year on its last legs and limping toward 2011, I was walking down a street downtown. Rushing to meet the curtain of a play that didn't actually have a curtain. It was a cold evening, but there was still light in the sky so I'm gonna guess it wasn't the early dark winter months. It was probably mid to late March.
I don't remember the name of the show.
What I do remember is this: puddles of water on the sidewalk. A reptilian sheen on the concrete and the pavement, so that both the black road and the dun sidewalk reflected the same pale blue tint. People passing, umbrellas dipping or raising like a carnival ride. An intrusive wind slapping exposed flesh til the flesh turned red.
And I remember this: an older woman folded against the wall just outside of a Starbucks, a wet blanket gathered around her, a McDonalds soda cup beside an exposed shoe, an arm slipped outside the blanket and holding her knees to her chest.
It's a myth to say New Yorkers don't notice homeless people. It's also a joke. Certainly we notice them. And certainly we joke about them. New Yorkers also notice and joke about fat people, short people, tall people, ethnic people, white people (who are also ethnic but reluctant to admit it), people who walk with limps and people who walk with broad, even strides. We joke about cat people, dog people, gingers, brunettes, gays, straights, single people, married people, promiscuous people, celibate people, people who think 'Mama Mia' is a good musical, people who hate 'Mama Mia,' people who haven't heard of 'Mama Mia.'
We notice others. We make fun of others. We welcome others. We pity others because they are not us, and we expect the same pity in return since we are all others.
So, I noticed the homeless woman.
I ignore several homeless a day, but I didn't ignore her. I dropped a coin into her McDonalds cup, and the coin made a splash because the rain had filled her cup in a way none of the passers-by would.
The lone arm outside the blanket twitched, and the hand at the end of it waved.
I moved on. I think I was going to see 'Our Town.' Maybe not.
The idea of charity has taken a beating the past few years, which is only natural since so many families now depend on charity to get by.
But the truth is, you don't need as much as anyone else. You--editorial you--have Internet; you have a computer; you have your wits about you so that you can make sense of what I'm currently typing. You have a roof over your head, a floor beneath your feet, and you presumably have the intention of keeping that roof and that floor as long as you can. So give.
It turns out a flat quarter can make a splash in a water-filled cup. I still made it to the theater on time, I still sat in my seat and enjoyed the play (maybe it wasn't 'Our Town.' Maybe it was something else). And the fingers of the exposed hand, connected to the exposed forearm, connected to the exposed bicep, connected to the shoulder of the person beneath the soggy blanket outside of the Starbucks just off of Christopher Street--I remember those waggling fingers more than I remember which play I was rushing to see.
Later in the night those fingers might've closed around a syringe or around a sandwich. The next day, they might've clutched a crackpipe or a key to a new apartment. Who knows. Who cares.
As the year dies, so do we. We're older, and closer to our terminus. Tomorrow, the new year will begin but we'll still be older. We'll still be in an old year, with the same old things.
So here's what I'm thankful for: I'm very thankful for the people who helped Greg and I get thru this year. And I hope we helped others get through some bad times, and in the coming year I hope we continue to help out. And I hope everyone drops a quarter into a water-logged cup from time to time. It's like dropping a coin in a fountain, really. The coin makes a splash, and one can wish it means something more than just a coin sinking to the bottom of a pool of water.
To mangle Kurt Vonnegut: We're all here to help each other get through this thing, whatever this thing is.
Happy New Year.
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