Exactly one year ago today I [wrote] about an interaction I had with a beggar on the street and the profound impact it had on me. At the time, I resolved that I would change the way I treated people that I came across in my days — especially desperate people. After I finished writing, I hoped that unlike so many other times that I resolved to change this or that about myself it would stick this time. Well, it did.
Over the past year I’ve met up with scores of homeless and destitute people as I walk around the city. Some have become a daily part of my commuting ritual; one man, Dave, who has lived on my street for a number of years and who was watched over by our local deli men, declined badly over the winter and then disappeared. But in each instance, whenever someone sought my attention or help, I offered it. Usually just a few dollars and a smile but I also saw that many people needed a few moments of attention, a bit of conversation and a direct gaze into their eyes as much as they needed the money. Perhaps the worst effect of their desperation is the alienation they suffer — even surrounded by thousands of people. They become ghosts even before they are dead. Strange to say it took some practice to reach out to them — actually more disinhibition: deciding that it was all right to give money to the same person everyday by extinguishing the thought that I was being “taken advantage of” with the recognition that their need was persistent and that I was in a position to help. Practicing humanity. What a concept.