We’ve all seen him.
Standing there, pleading in the ice.
The cars inch forward, creeping past his dark figure. Together, all fifty of us are trapped in this void of tar and frost-studded smoke. We peek out the window, squinting past the traffic.
Yes, it is him. With trembling hands, he clutches the piece of cardboard like a life preserver, for he is alone amongst a whirlpool of crimson tail lights, of squirming black glares. He stands broken. Without fear.
Your car approaches.
Something kicks in your gut. It is so hard—so hard—not to look at his pallid cheeks. His tattered scarf. The cardboard, scribbled over in neon marker, reads, “Homeless. Anything helps.”
We can do two things. We can keep our music flowing into our ears at top volume, and stare blankly at the license plate illuminated before us. We can ignore him. We can save our souls from a moment of inherent unease. We can keep a locked heart.
Or, we can quickly unplug our headphones, and rifle through the glove compartment for a mere dollar. Maybe two. We can roll down the window. Feel our hearts glow with swirling anxiety, with love, as our eyes meet.
“Happy holidays,” he says, beaming as we hand him the crumpled dollar bill.
“Happy holidays, sir.” Shy grins.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to keep my hands warm, you know?” he continues. A broad smile is still sunny across his cracked lips. His eyes, though shadowed, are a brilliant, milky blue. His laugh is warm.
It’s all within five seconds. Before we know it, our car is yards past him. Our hearts are pulsing a mile a minute. Something wonderful has happened. Something strange.
Tears well in our eyes. How can this be right? How could a dollar be all we had to give? How could we not have let him in, brought him to our home, even for just an hour? For a good meal? For some kind words? How could a slip of paper ever help—at all?
We are not so different. One is male, one is female. One is starving. One is depressed. One is living the dream. The other is dying. You are existing. But we are all here, and we are all human.
Why are we afraid to spare a moment? Why are we afraid to give?
He has laughed, just like us. He has cried, just like us. He has sworn and gorged on dreams and lies, just like us. He has a family, somewhere. He has a past. He is human.
And yet, I have seen him on every street corner of New York City. I have seen him begging before the bookshops of little ram-shackled beach towns. I have seen him cowering, spindle-boned, beneath a sari. I have seen him hobbling along crowded cobblestone streets. I have seen him outside my very own home.
Yes, we’ve all seen him. We’ve all had to make that split-second decision. That choice that sends a us wake-up call—forcing us past the glow of our screens, the traffic of our thoughts.
The choice that seems simple enough.
But, tell me.
Is it, really?