Every Sunday morning, I wrench myself out of bed two hours earlier than I normally have to get up to travel for an hour to the Upper East Side, where I work at an Episcopal church, singing Sunday School songs with little kids. I’m always surprised at how full the trains are that early on Sundays, though in my neighborhood, the people I see are the ones on their way to the kinds of jobs that don’t get weekends off. Once the train gets into Manhattan, loud-talking tourists and groups of people rushing to church or brunch enter the train. I try to take up as little room as possible and review my songs or read my magazine in order to keep from falling asleep. Not having had a single day off in the last three or four weeks is catching up to me.
As I exit the 86th Street station, I tuck myself into the crowds, everyone impatiently but silently trying to speed each other up. As I come up the stairs to a landing, where there’s a bodega and a final set of stairs leading to the outside, I see Howard. White-haired under a baseball cap, with huge, sad, blue eyes, he holds a cup for change. I’ve walked past him more than a few times, but have also stopped more than a few times to give him a dollar or two and say a few gentle words. By now, it’s a weekly ritual. I always try to make a point to say hi to my friend, though we hardly talk more than a moment or two in the stream of people hurrying past.
Today, it’s raining and Howard worries that I don’t have an umbrella. Before I can explain that I have one in my bag, he insists that I take his. This man, imploring people for a few cents just so he can have the $20 it takes to rent a bed when it’s cold, offers me his umbrella. I assure him I’m fine and tell him I’ll see him next week.
I walk away, late for Sunday school by now, but time seems to have disappeared. The air is cold, my feet wet, but all I feel is warmth in my heart. Does he know the impact that this tiny act of kindness has had on this hectic New Yorker?