Love the Invisible

Love the InvisibleHow often do you reach out to another human?

On Good Friday, I was at Penn Station.  A homeless man politely approached me and asked for money.  His pitch was eloquent, heartfelt, and with wonderful eye contact.  I was marveled by his intelligence.

Liquor seeped from his breath, and a cane supported his frail body, but I couldn’t help but wonder what his story was.  If he were a character in my script or novel, what would I learn from him?  What would his arc be?  But this man wasn’t fiction.  He was real, and he indeed needed help.

Instead of handing him a ten dollar bill that would have most certainly been spent on more moonshine, I offered, “Let me buy you lunch.”  I wanted to take him into the restaurant so he could choose what most appealed to him, but he explained the homeless weren’t allowed.

As I stood on line waiting for food, I glanced back at him, propped against the wall.  People were passing by, as if he didn’t exist.  He was invisible.  Totally invisible.  My heart broke.

With a bag of warm nourishment, I returned and held out his hot lunch.  As he reached for it, I looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you.”  He was astonished.  A tear rolled down his cheek, “I don’t remember the last time someone said that to me.”  I simply repeated, “I love you.”  A sweet smile rose across his parched lips as he declared, “I love you too.”

I smiled and walked away, never to see him again.  But for that one day, that one moment, I hope he felt loved.  Those three words were more nourishing to him than any amount of food.

Try spreading love and see what joy comes back to you.

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37 thoughts on “Love the Invisible

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I thought it was only me who sees the invisible. I saw a homeless man by West 4th Street subway station in the West Village of Manhattan. It was 1:oo am and I was returning home. He just sat there and drew and drew all these big gigantic circles with the 7 shades of sharpie markers he had. He was actually trying to sell them. He had amazing blue-green eyes, dark brown skin, and loads of white hair. He truly looked like a wizard! I was hypnotized by his passion for drawing those circles. He told me, "Why are you scared to sit and watch?" Well, because there is traffic–people coming in and out of the subway entrance and he needs to shower. But his eyes smiled colors that were brighter than the pixels in the sharpies. So I squatted on the dirty floor. He said he liked my perfume. The minute I sat next to him, 3 different people (drunk couples) stopped stopped by to pay him whatever left over cash they had from their night out bar hopping. But one couple actually gave $5 for one of the paintings. He said, "Who doesn't like to be paid for their art?" to me, my knees hurting from sitting the position I was sitting. The floor was dirty. It was winter mush around. He said, "Either you gotta feed the artist or buy his stuff, right girl?" I said, "Yes. Are you hungry?" He said, "Yes." I went back up. stood in line at the stall that stands the best sharma falafel sandwhiches (they are great even in daylight!) and bought him a meal for $5.00 and water for$1.00 I had to go get cash so it took me a moment. I returned and his face was all lit up. "You didn't think I was coming back, huh?" And he said, "Oh I did. We have the same eyes. Of course you were." He was cool. Very cool. I wish I could find him again. Wow. Wasn't expecting to share all that but your post just took me back a few years. Thank you. ~a.

  2. Wow… that's a beautiful story. I think the next time I'm in NYC, I'm going to spend a few hours with the homeless, not in a shelter, but where they live… on the streets. By the way, he is indeed a wizard. I believe that. What a rich life he has found for himself, in the most unexpected place. Thank you for sharing that.

  3. So glad you could connect and I'm sure it was a warm moment for him and I know it was for you.Touching the lives of another, homeless or not, is a beautiful pay it forward. We all need to do more of it.Jeanne, this situation, I've been there. And even "been THERE." Having lived in Manhattan for many years you begin to filter out the sadness around you. Like in any big city because homeless do flock to where they know they will have a better shot at existence. A wise move. Manhattan, it can be a terribly rough city. As you know. Most people are struggling to stay afloat and most love the city to the core of their beings. I do believe that a large percentage care a great deal about the homelessness epidemic,run rampant, out-of-control, sadly expanding at a rate that astounds and befuddles many. If there was a solid charity that everyone could donate to, I trust they would. I surely would. I have donated. I even work at the soup kitchen downtown quite a few weekends a year, have for 2 almost years. But it's not enough.Sometimes I up and pass out a 10 or even a 20 dollar bill and when I do, I know that I've helped them to get what they need for a short amount of time, but I also know how hard I worked to get my 20. I don't regret the gift, but I do then think long and hard on how many homeless would love the opportunity to work for their own 20. Tons desire that most of all.Without an address, phone number and resume it's nearly impossible to even find work. Some charities offer a number and address for use, but HR often knows that number and address…Who wants to hire a homeless person? Often people assume homeless are lazy or have mental illness. True about a percentage having mental illness and not able to afford meds, so unable to get it together enough to tackle the ugly life tasks us with homes have…but not so true about laziness. People will make up any tale, a negative one just so they can live without the guilt of ignoring the problem. This is an extremely prosperous country and there is no excuse for homelessness. We know that. It's painful to see how little the USA takes care of its citizens.The truly painful part is how we are nearly powerless to make a change on a grand scale.But in our own small way we can help… But how can we fight the source? The big ugly government that protects corporations over individuals? How can we dismantle the corrupt health care system?How can we stop the banks from pushing families into the street just because they were so eager to own a home they didn't read the small print?The repulsion runs deep.Thanks for the post and apologies for such a long comment! But really got me thinking and feeling again on what ails America.

  4. You know, some people would think he wasn't invisible to you just because you weren't a New Yorker. But I know you too well. You'd have responded the same even if a denizen of the Big Apple.

  5. Tina, no apologies for comment length necessary. Believe me, as I rode that train out of Dodge, I felt the same things. What is the answer? Did my meal really make a difference? But I suppose my point in sharing this wasn't so much the gift of the meal as it was the gift of love. I bet there were many other people, clothed well and well-fed, with wonderful jobs who haven't heard the words "I love you" in ages either. I wish we did have an answer for the invisible. Thanks so much, Tina, for taking the time to expand on my thoughts. I love you.

  6. Jim, I admit, I did think of you and your "I love you" campaign that day. Three very powerful words. Thanks.Rog, thanks. Yeah, I'm a bit naive of a country girl, but I'd like to think even if I were an aficionado of the city life, I would have still noticed him. I was amazed at how articulate his was and what a waste of talent I could see inside him. Im sure if he could find a job, he would give it everything he has. Such a smart man.

  7. I'm not entirely sure that I can be eloquent right now. This post hits me very hard, in a place that I mostly deny exists. That being my heart. The homeless are not invisible to me. In their faces, I see an old friend of mine, since gone… beaten to a pulp by people that did it just because he was there for the beating.He died shortly after that beating.We never knew how he came to be living on the street when there were people that loved him that would have taken him in.In the end, it didn't matter. What matters now is that each of them have a story, each of them have a heart, and each of them have people somewhere that give a damn.I hope, beyond all hope that I can express, that someone showed Frank the kind of kindness that you did before he died.Thank you for this post, from the bottom of my heart. You really can't know what it meant to me to read it.

  8. Wonderful post, Jeanne. I'm always reminded of how easily anyone can be homeless in our society – whether NYC or anywhere for that matter. I have a close friend who spent time virtually homeless when she first moved here. It has nothing to do with how talented, or even accomplished, you are.Tina also touched on real issues that make so many invisible. Dismantling the healthcare and financial services systems is a great start. They simply don't serve the people they're intended to serve. I was just speaking with a personal hero of mine last week about how societies with almost no resources are often the most innovative (Aravind Hospitals in India provide state-of-the-art eyecare to 2/3 of their patients free of charge). Wish it were easier to find ways to ensure everyone has the opportunity to take care of themselves, and retains the most basic human rights (including healthcare, but also shelter, food & water). We have the power of our votes and opinions, but somehow it's never enough… thanks for the reminder.

  9. Lori, I am certain Frank was loved and continues to be loved every day by people like you who remember him. I indeed hope someone showed him a random act of kindness amidst the horror in which he lived. Saddens my heart. Huge hugs to you. Btw, your heart is a beautiful thing. I hope you let us see it often ; ) Sedef, your words are powerful and true. I'm not a politically-minded person, but when one sees the aftermath of government's decisions laying in the streets… the real people it affects… it's hard not to want significant change to happen sooner rather than later. Thanks.You all have deeply touched me today. Thank you.

  10. Sometimes we find ourselves within a beautiful moment and not even realize it. Devoid of any selfish motivations (ego, greed, etc.), our hearts spill out into the world to create an act of kindness where none existed before, and we are forever changed by the experience.These beautiful moments are all too brief in this self absorbed world, but they do happen, and they do linger…Congrats on your beautiful moment, dear Jeanne. You dropped your metaphorical heart into the waters of the 'Verse. Now sit back and watch the ripples of joy you've created. 🙂

  11. When I worked in NYC, I quickly learned amongst those who chose to see the "invisible", the unspoken rule. Adopt one in your daily path.Mine was an Italian man, Roberto, who parked his cardboard boxes near a fave barbecue pork joint in Chinatown. I used to bring him dumplings and pork buns and we would sit on a street corner, chatting, cracking jokes about the Italians and the Chinese. Sometimes, he was at the shelter – he went there weekly for a shower and a meal – and I visited him there. Once upon a time, he was a middle-class business owner, with a home in New York. He had three sons, all of whom had washed their hands off him since his wife died and he lost their home due to bad investments. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I invited him home to meet my friends and partner. He was delighted. I saw him Monday and told him what time to wait at our corner on Friday. But on Friday, he wasn't there. Nor was he at the barbecue pork place or at the shelter or anywhere nearby. No one had seen him since Monday. I hoped perhaps one of his sons had realized the error of his ways, and taken their father in during the holiday season.But the truth is what Tina and Sedef have touched on. A man let down by bad judgment, negligent family and the dysfunctional system and mindset of his so-called first world environment, died alone, in the cold, somewhere. And nobody noticed.Thanks for a beautiful post Jeanne. Roberto if you're listening, I love you.

  12. Thank you for sharing your moment. Just a few days ago, a woman stopped me on my way out of a grocery story. She said she needed 87 cents to get something. Instead of my normal cynical, skeptical self, I simply handed her a dollar. She walked back in the store, not to the next person. I truly believe we're on a new path these days. The me generation is becoming the we generation, but it's not limited to demographics. What struck me most is your simple "I love you" to a stranger, who really, really needed to hear it. Thank you!

  13. Jeanne, that was beautiful. I used to save part of my lunch to give to the homeless always camped out at the light before I got on the freeway on the way home from work. It wasn't solid interaction like you experienced, but still made me feel good to be helping feed someone in need.And when given with a smile, I always got one back.You are fantastic, jeanne. Thank you for spreading the love.

  14. Tracy, thank you for the beautiful comments. Just wanted to share a simple gesture that I should have done 1000 other times but didn't. That day, I had the time and compassion in my heart. Sadly, I don't always.Pauline, I love the idea of sharing my lunch with someone. But my guess is, the smile you gave them meant just as much as the food… maybe more.

  15. Jeanne, thank you for sharing this story. That was God working through the both of you that day. What a blessing that you GOT to be there and have that precious moment. Far too often we think about the things we HAVE to do on a daily basis.. What we forget is that we don't HAVE to do anything. We GET to. We GET to work, we GET to pay our bills, we GET to do the laundry. We GET to pick our kids up from school. That day you GOT to give a part of your love and grace away. You didn't HAVE to. What a blessing you are. M~

  16. Lovely. Such a touching story. Bless you, Jeanne. You not only gifted that man with your love; you gifted all of us, your readers, too. Thank you!

  17. It takes bravery to open your heart and say "I love you", even to a stranger. We risk being thought crazy or rejected ourselves. Voluntarily making ourselves vulnerable is not something most of us consciously go in for on a regular basis. In fact many of us look away, myself included sometimes, as I struggle with the impossibility of feeding everyone and the guilt of my full belly.So I take my hat off to you.Vulnerability is the home of the homeless. But this man (clearly well versed in humility) showed courage too by embracing it at an entirely new level. He accepted your words and your love. Believing those words is not easy for any of us. But how much harder to allow yourself to be broken wide open and filled with kindness – just for a moment. A moment of fulfilment that shows up the emtiness in sharp relief. A moment you know will pass with no promise of return. That's bravery. I'm soaking up the lesson as I write.Love is soul food. Give & receive it when you can. Enjoy it in the moment as that's all we have.

  18. It's so much easier to be kind, but how often do people opt to ignore because they are afraid? You did a wonderful thing to act on your instincts instead of pretending you didn't see.

  19. Just now happened across this wonderful story, Jeanne. This is a topic I have always been very drawn to. Thank you for expressing it so brilliantly, with such clarity and grace.

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