Pieces of New York

At Times Square:

A homeless man walked along the great glass windows of a restaurant, tapping, tapping away with a cane he did not need to guide him. “I’m hungry and I just want some food,” he cried. “I’m hungry and I just want some food.” My friend and I walked past him, then stopped a few feet past, looked at each other, almost shyly, and asked, “should we?” Of course we should. We doubled back and caught the attention of the man. “Um…” we said, “if you wait here a bit, we can get you a sandwich at that Starbucks.” We pointed across the street to a Starbucks.

He begins rummaging in his pockets. “I don’t want you to do this for nothing,” he says, taking out two Starbucks gift cards. I was slightly surprised. “I’ll give you these,” he says over our already shaking heads, “and you give me some money so I can buy it myself.”

“No. We can’t do that.” We say uncertainly, “If you’d like, we can buy you a sandwich. Or you can come and choose, if you want…”

“I want to give these to you. Just give me a little money, and I can buy the food I want.”

We started getting firm. “If you really want food, we can buy you a sandwich. But that’s all.”

“You don’t understand, ladies.” he said in a pleading tone, holding out those cards. “You don’t understand! I don’t want a sandwich…”

My friend and I continued shaking our heads, trying to walk away without seeming rude, having realized what the man was actually asking for.

“You don’t understand,’ he said again, pained, pleading, “please.”

We turned, walking away and trying to ignore his pleading, stretched out hands.

“You don’t understand!” I heard behind us, and I tried so hard to shrink into myself.

Indeed, we did not understand. How could we? with our lives so comfortable, so secure, that there was never any real reason for escape. I could not understand the appeal of drugs. I could not understand the torments of withdrawal. I could not understand a life made up of flashes of ecstasy, or perhaps blissful forgetfulness, and the long stretches in between of misery and hunger and loneliness and depression in between. I could not understand the tortures which drive a man to ask for more of this when he was already starving. That painful, pleading, “you do not understand, ladies!” And his eyes, his desperate, pleading eyes. It hurts, because, oh, how little we understood. We turned our backs and left, fleeing something we could not comprehend. I, at least, was also fleeing those pleading eyes. I imagined their accusation. That hurt too. Here was a man, broken, desperate, in need of so much more. And we simply walked away. We gave him nothing. We simply didn’t understand.

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A summery of the trip

I’m back from a wondrous trip. A few things I accomplished a learned between 20 days and 30 historical sites: 

1. I have decided to get my ears pierced. 

2. I went to a bar. 0.o Perhaps more on that another day.

3. I cannot live without Greek coffee. 

4. I have learned that it is okay to be a tourist. 

5. I watched Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in an all male cast at a London theatre. :D

6. Once someone has traveled, has seen another piece of the beautiful world, has wandered lost in a foreign city and been surrounded by a foreign language, one cannot stop. 

7. However, I have also learned that backpacking is not for me, as fun as that would be. 

8. I have learned that God speaks to each of us in slightly a different way, and that’s okay. (Perhaps more on this later also) 

9. I have made a good friend, one with whom I could talk of life, death, marriage, God, fears, hobbits, Greek coffee, cathedrals, religion, stray dogs, and everything else beneath the stars. 

(:

Cities

I love cities. Which is a relatively new development – only the past two years or so.
I used to hate cities (though I have spent all my life in those giant conglomerations of dirt and cement and polluted air and grime). But increasingly I have come to realize that cities are a place of so many stories, so many dreams.

Not houses finely roofed or the stones of walls well builded, nay nor canals and dockyards make the city, but men able to use their opportunity.
~ Alcaeus

People come to the city, always, in pursuit for something. Yet just as they come with a bright hope of some better future, so many also leave their dreams buried beneath the cold hard pavement, and grow weary and cold themselves, while others resign themselves to hold eternal vigil over vague memories of a happier time.
Cities are not kind places.

I love being in the city, because each day you brush shoulders with so many people, each with their own story to tell. Some are heroic, others tragic, some have come-of-age, others are cocky with the arrogance of youth, some are thousands of miles from home, others have never left town, some will tell you stories of wars and battles they fought in far away lands in days gone by, others would show you where he was knifed just last week, some are young and single and struggling so hard to raise their child on their own, others are whitehaired couples happily married for over half a century.

Not all stories are pretty. Not all are happy. But each story is the valiant struggle of a human being. When you are told such a story, you are offered a brief glimpse into another’s life, another’s soul. I don’t know about you, but I am honored to be offered such trust. Perhaps because I grew up on the milk of stories – from children’s books to fantasies to memoirs -, and perhaps because I am training in the profession of a historian, I feel a duty to seek out these unheard stories. I feel a pressing need to preserve a little, even a little, of these men and women who are such an integral part of the fabric of the place I call home, before time and the City whisk them away so that we never cross paths again.

Do you now understand my love for cities?

I am travelling soon, to Athens, and the rest of Greece, and finally, a brief little visit to London. So many cities! I can’t help but think to myself, so many stories to hear! Admittedly, I will be surrounding by an inconveniently comfortable bubble of friends and teachers. But I assure you I will find time to wander, and to hear stories, and to bear a solemn witness to the tears and laughter of others.