When you’re a New Yorker, there are a few rules you pick up pretty quickly about subway behavior.
1.) You let people out before getting on.
2) You don’t make eye contact, especially with those wearing ski masks.
3) Instead of making eye contact, you look at the ads on the wall no matter how bad they are.
4.) It’s okay to check out a subway map without anyone thinking you’re a tourist. What will make people think you’re a tourist is wearing white, generally while being blond.
5.) You give up your seat to pregnant women unless you’re a total asshat.
6.) You generally ignore the panhandlers.
We’ve all developed oodles of justification for this last one–I give to homeless organizations, not individuals. They might just use it for drugs. It will encourage others. I’m better off giving them a sandwich. That guy has all his limbs, can’t he just get a job? Okay, so that guy has no limbs at all–but can’t he just get a job?
But it’s weird. For some reason I’m seeing it with a far more sympathetic perspective right now.
I don’t know if it’s that I’m feeling more abundance of my own this holiday season than I have in years past. I don’t know if it’s the increasingly moving confessions of the 99%, like this story from Mocha Momma. I don’t know if it’s reading posts like one from Queen of Spain about how kindness from strangers matters. I don’t know if it’s boring old liberal guilt.
But I can’t seem to pass a panhandler (or let him pass me) without giving him something.
The guy with the dead look in his eye and the plea for change or something to eat? Clink. The woman with the young child in her arms and the story about abuse and homelessness? Clink. The mariachi band playing La Bamba on the C train? Clink. The guy with no legs, hunched over in a wheelchair on the stairway landing of the 14th Street L stop? Clink Clink.
I suppose, if this person has to degrade himself to beg on a subway, wending his way past the Wall Street guys buried in Blackberries, and the holiday shoppers with their crisp bags from Abercrombie and Barney’s at their feet, maybe that’s worth a quarter. Or a dollar. Or maybe what’s more valuable from me is that precious, rare, eye contact, a smile, and a “Merry Christmas, man. Take care of yourself.”
One human being to another human being.
I don’t know if I’m being kind or stupid. I just know it’s what feels right right now.