Last night, walking home in the cold, I was stopped by a man I had seen moments before under a pink blanket on the corner of 66th and Broadway, around the corner from Lincoln Center. The man ran after me, “I saw you hesitate just for a second. Can I make a point with you?”
My first reaction was anger: “What? Homeless people run after you now?”
My second reaction, a split second later, was: “A point? He has a point to make with me? He’s an intellectual?”
My third reaction, even as I shook my head “no,” was guilt.
Then I walked into the grocery store.
“It’s too hard to get money out of my purse with gloves on. Do I even have any small bills? If I give him something, it reinforces begging. If we give every street person something, it reinforces begging. What was his point? What would Jesus do? Should I buy him food?”
I bought my groceries – maple syrup for yogurt, sushi, vegetable dumplings, and orange marmalade.
He was not waiting when I left the store. I crossed the street to my apartment.
Last night he slept on the street. I slept in a king-size Ralph Lauren bed. He slept under a pink blanket. I slept under a down comforter.
Whatever the point he wished to make, the point I received is that I am one more person with a warm home who does not know what to do about people who have no homes at all. I am not guilty because I have a home. I am guilty because I walked away. I was afraid. I like things smooth, I don’t like awkwardness. I would have felt caught. I didn’t want him latching onto me. I . . . I . . . Why is it all about me? That right there is the problem.