“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.“ – Mother Teresa
The other day I went to the supermarket and bought a few things. A long loaf of sliced wonderbread, 2 packages of Boar’s Head ham, quality american cheese, and some prosciutto. Top of the line, smoked, beautiful prosciutto. I can hear you vegans sighing now. Oh, I picked up a bunch of waterbottles and some ziplock bags too.
I packed 10 ham and cheese sandwiches, plus water bottles into large ziplock meal bags. I knew I would be in the Bronx and Queens that weekend, so I just veered slightly off schedule to give them out to homeless people I came across in the subways. I would avoid the beggars and give to those I saw living reclusively, minding their own business. I hear beggars clean up these days, near 6 figures, untaxed – not bad for hanging out on the E train with a can out all day.
Anyway, I didn’t even think I’d write about this, nevermind sound like a show-off. It’s just a few sandwiches and something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Kind of like hanging with that old friend again, “I never got around to it.”
For real, I wrote this because when I personally handed over those meals to people cotted up in dirty, concrete, NYC, underground crevices, something changed in me. I handed the bags over and I looked into each person’s eyes, and they looked in mine. Because I prepared a bagged meal for them, they were being cared for. It was me slapping the sandwiches together, the moment they were not forgotten. It was that greater hunger I didn’t think about. They would look at me slightly jolted and I could feel the genuine gratitude; It was absolutely incredible.
Except this first guy I came across. Let’s call him Tommie, big boy laid out asleep already at the first stop, corner seat of the subway car. He could have pulled an overtime shift of day-drinking, or maybe they just don’t bother him much on the 4 line. Dressed in dirty army fatigues, a big coat, and some shades, I didn’t get the feeling this was a lifestyle he was used to. My stop was coming up, so I tried to leave a bag for him, but he flinched and started mumbling slurs. “You want a sandwich or no?”, “No!” Attempting to get up off there too, he stumbled over himself getting a little louder “Money!”. “No, sorry, good luck!” Tommie tripped on the gap behind me as I looked back, change falling out of his coat pockets and what looked like a tube cap of a syringe. This was my one concern, people who lost all control of themselves. Substance abuse is ugly, and that clearly became his only hunger.
Dude, I asked every single receptive homeless person if they wanted 2 mealbags. None of them would take the second free meal. Free for the poor, yet no takers. Explain to me how every time we hear the word “Free”, we jump, even round up some friends and family to get in on the deal. Unbelievable.
There was one man though, had to be in his mid-40’s. Corner of Queens Blvd. and Broadway. Chase was his name; he seemed upbeat and completely content. He refused a handout completely because he had colon cancer, said he couldn’t eat meat. I asked if he wanted water or anything else. “I’m good, thank you!” he replied cheerfully as he pulled his blanket up, over his feet, and up tight to stay warm. “Okay, take care man, god bless!”
I walked away confused about Chase’s situation. It’s nighttime, literally chilling on the corner, presumably has cancer, smile on his face, positive energy, and just trying to get covered and warm. He had me thinking about my late Father who lost his battle with cancer. He always used to ask us to cover him with a blanket, but most importantly his feet. “Strict orders”, he’d say jokingly. Man, it’s so easy to forget those little things, and hard not to smile remembering them. Chase, on the corner had nothing, and in that moment gave me everything.
Back to the topic, I was giving out sandwiches, and one older man refused my offer for a second meal 3 times. I’m pretty sure his name was Jerry. He was appreciative, took the first meal and politely refused #2. These people simply did not want to take 2 sandwiches because they knew there was a struggling, homeless, hungry human at the next stop or block starving for a meal. Damn! And does anyone ever consider or wonder, “How much do the poor give?”
Well, in this case, priceless memories, or refusal of a free sandwich and water so the next man can eat. They also fumbled away, lost touch, or downright struggled their entire lives, for us to see what they live like, and what we should avoid becoming in life. They show us why we must love, and show it, work hard, and strive to be well-off, so none of our family or friends would be in that situation. They give us a living example of why we should stay off the hard drugs too, or atleast try not to try them.
What do the poor give? What about us, what do we give? You know what bothers me the most?
When I bought the ham and cheese at the H-Mart, I also bought the prosciutto. I bought it for me because well, I wanted the good stuff. They get the ham, I get prosciutto. Like I’m any better, honestly! What a fraud I am. I only gave away 8 of the 10 f**king sandwiches, told myself I couldn’t find anymore homeless people and got on with my “real plans”. Then tbere I was, inhaling a ham and cheese driving home. Loser move, I even left the one last bag an extra day in the car and the sandwich went bad. Good job bro.
At that point I realized, I realized what I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to have nothing. Something most of our parents grew up with, nothing, nothing but each other. They would do anything to ensure we never knew what it was like, and surrounded us with love in the process.
If I had a dollar for every time I opened the fridge as a kid complaining “There’s nothing to eat!”, I could have put Tommie, Chase, and Jerry up in The Plaza for a week. I probably should have given that extra meal to Jerry even though he repeatedly said no. It was in better hands with him. He wouldn’t have let it go to waste; maybe he’s a better man than me.
“How much do the Poor give?”
I’m sorry, not enough, but I hope this leads to more.