It happened on the five line. Grand Central at Lexington, the train pulls into the station, crowds of pushy travelers board. I’m standing in the middle of them when the doors close. Somewhere someone is talking above the din, and a quiet hush ensues. It’s a homeless man again, I think to myself. Another story hard to believe on face value, but wait, this sounds more urgent, desperate, his voice quivers. Next to him a woman tugs at his side, he introduces her as his wife, pregnant six and half months. I peer around a tall man, and sure enough she is.
The man explains they are homeless, out of work for six months, and hungry. They need help for shelter that night, and a decent meal. Would anyone help with any amount, any amount at all, a quarter a dime will help. Please! Something in his voice… Then unexpectedly, God whispers to me, ‘you know that $20 in your pocket, well it’s mine, and I want you to give it to them. Lord, I don’t know what they’ll do with it, probably guzzle it before the day is out. ’Give it, don’t ask questions of my intent. So I dig in, take out the folded bill, tap the lady on the shoulder and say, “here, God bless you.” Others, visibly moved by this generous offering, themselves fumble in purses, pant pockets and bags, and I watch as money passes from strangers hand to strangers hand to bless them. I’ve never seen such a generous outpouring. When our stop is reached, the woman cranes her neck my way, and mouths the words ‘thank you.’ But it is her eyes that do the talking. They are moist, glassy and in them I see relief, awe, and gratitude. But more than all of these, I spot hope, that at least this day they might get shelter and enough to eat.
The couple go their way holding hands, not knowing I walk a step behind. She leans into him, though he limps. I hear her ask, “could we get something to eat now?” He nods and smiles, which make her brighten. In that moment I fumble in my pocket, but have no more to give. They turn into a crowd exiting up into Union Square and a brilliant sunny day, and are gone.
I wonder if they knew what their poverty and desperation had done to a loose collection of indifferent New Yorkers? This mix of colors and cultures had shared a moment of compassion, a generous chain reaction of love. The unusual outpouring not only unified a crowded subway, but had brought to their senses a scent of heaven which left giver and gawker alike strangely moved, when countless others voices had failed to move them. It happened on the five line, but it brushed ever so lightly the hem of heaven, which came down for the briefest of moments to remind a young struggling couple that God is nearer than they could ever imagine.