This past week I went again… Leaving the quiet of Lancaster County at dawn, driving many miles and crossing bridges and passing many towns along the way. I made my usual stops for gas, NJ Bagels and found my parking spot – just in time to catch the 10:00am Ferry into Manhattan. As I sat, thinking and watching people on their way to jobs, appointments, life in the city… I was struck by the stress and pace in which they were living – so routine. I sat watching and thanking heaven for the slow (20 minute) trek across the Hudson — to places where I can breathe, see, hear, live – just for just a day!
I hopped on the Yellow line and headed uptown. I sat watching people getting on and off the subway at each stop with all the locals sitting quietly, pretending to not notice anyone around them. At one stop an older man stepped into our subway car and began playing a beautiful melody on a flute. I didn’t recognize the song but as we neared the next stop he walked through the car saying any help for a homeless Vet would be appreciated. I watched as everyone gave awkward nervous smiles and looked away — sadly I was one of them too.
I got off at Central Park – just wanting to walk in a quiet spot in a bustling city – to think about my life and wonder if I’m really doing alright. There were people running, tourist snapping photos, business people on their way to meetings, couples pushing strollers, friends sitting and laughing, kids running and playing in the massive rocks that have pushed their way to the earths surface! I overheard phone conversations, couples talking relationship struggles, friends planning their weekends, parents figuring out their kids… everyone wrapped up in their worlds… and I almost laughed when I heard the lady say exactly the same thing I’ve said the past few weeks. The world is big – but were all figuring it out – day by day.
I walked to Bryant Park (yes, over a mile in my cute boots, cause that’s what you do when in NYC). I found a chair/table near the merry-go-round, got out my journal and starting writing. As I sat I was approached by an older woman – with kindness she asked if I could help her – a homeless woman. I responded saying I didn’t have any cash to give her. She smiled, thanked me and walked away.
10 minutes later, a gentleman, who I had seen talking to a lady at a nearby table came over and started talking… actually singing, to me – about me. About my sitting and journal writing. About my blue eyes being diamonds sparkling. About my smile and sweet spirit. His kindness – although pleading for someone to be generous towards him – was breathtaking. Again, I responded saying I didn’t have cash to give but that I had appreciated his gift – his song. He thanked me for MY kindness, smiled and walked on.
As I moved onto my next spot in the city – I thought back on the days encounters. The things I’d seen and wondered how desperate and “in need” I would have to become to live like them. I was (and still am) struck by their lack of fear, inhibited by nothing, motivated by their deepest need, to ignore the confines of social norms or ‘boundaries’, ignoring the awkwardness of pleading moments to stay within what society deems “appropriate” or acceptable.
I thought about that for awhile —- and even the last few days, I’ve thought: ANY ONE of us could be one of those people I encountered…. I could be that lady or that man.
My needs, right now, are not for a home, or food or protection… but that doesn’t mean I don’t have needs. Every human being has needs, voids – where the deepest things push to the surface – and motivate us to go beyond what we’d normally do in managing – our typical coping mechanisms – to reach out, ask, cross social boundaries and seek assistance from someone, possibly even a stranger!
I just kept thinking, how hurt, how deep does that need have to be before I’d step into such a setting and ask someone to help?
I wrote previously about the humbling moments of vulnerability and showing our life messes, our pain… As I’ve thought about life through that ‘messes lens’ and now the ‘need’, I keep coming back to the place where recognition of need; for people, for relationships, kindness, love, acceptance, value, care, physical, mental, spiritual support… the NEED for those – pushes us to reach out. Yes, the homeless man, woman and gentleman had a physical need for money, but was there more to it? (… and did I miss it?) I believe humanity was DESIGNED to live in community – actually caring and supporting one another – so when that community, the care and support of one another is broken – the NEEDS, the voids and perhaps vulnerability (or the opposite; shame, fear, hiding) become more glaringly obvious.
I am beyond grateful for the amazing blessings I have in life!! I’m thankful for the reminder last Friday, the shifted perspective, that my life is full, comfortable, heated/cooled, fed, met needs (and oftentimes beyond needs to just wants)… And I pray that I don’t ever take for granted what I do have…
But even more than just being thankful for what I do have, I don’t want to miss opportunities – to live in community, in places where expression of my need, but even more – the needs if others (whatever that may be in that moment), is ok, BEFORE we get to those places of deepest, most desperate of places!!