Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The food in my hands

Sigh. I felt the breeze of an incoming train. Please be an N... N. Come on N train. The N train screeched into the station. Yes. I began walking toward the car doors. "Excuse me. Excuse me!" I looked around. There was a haggard old black man looking at me. "Can you spare me some food?" I looked down at the half-eaten half peanut butter sandwich in my hand, looked at him, shook my head and stepped onto the train.

Did he just ask me for the food in my hands? Should I have given it to him? But what would I eat? If I don't eat before I go to this dance class I will literally fall out. Did he really just ask for the food in my hands?

In New York City beggars are commonplace and I believe most of them are con artists, as one good friend puts it. They go to work everyday on the trains, subway platforms, and busy street corners preying on whoever they can to make their money. I don't doubt that some really are destitute. I know I don't have a clue of how they got to be where they are. But when seven years after my first year in college, I still see the Columbia University Beggar Guy who hangs out between the store front of Morton Williams and 116th on Broadway asking passersby for money, I know that something is not right.

Truthfully, I am slightly offended. How dare he ask me for my lunch? Yes I am fortunate enough to have a lunch. How does he know that it is not all the food I have? As much as I don't know his situation, he doesn't know mine. He doesn't know that I overdrew my bank account on my last trip to the grocery store.

And then I think, am I just another privileged selfish stingy greedy American? Why do I not feel okay to give a stranger the food out of my hands? There is a whole loaf of bread in my refridgerator and a jar full of peanut butter in the cupboard. I would do it for any of my loved ones. In fact, I did... share my last to eat... bought with money I didn't have (overdrawn account)... yesterday.

If you've ever shared a meal or a kitchen with me, you know I don't waste food. I always belong to the clean plate club, and somehow find a way to finish every left over. One of my biggest pet peeves with my roommate is how he constantly buys produce, only to put it in the drawer and let it rot because he forgot it was there... while I am hungry.  

In the moment the train car doors closed, my eyes searched through the window to see that man again. I didn't see him. He dissappeared. Probably to ask someone else for food.

I finished my sandwich. Looked at what was left of my lunch (the other half of the sandwich, an orange, granola) and whispered aloud Thank You.

What would you have done?

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