by Hersh and Shell
I am leaning on the hood of my yellow cab, enjoying the sun on my face, and the aroma of coffee, which is drifting towards me.
I happened to glance across the street and became aware of a middle-aged man, maybe a tourist because of his expensive looking camera, walking animatedly towards a fruit vendor, who, at five o’clock in the morning, is just setting up his stand. I began to listen to the conversation, just being nosy, I guess. I saw the man purchase some fruit from the vendor, and expected him to just walk away after he paid for his fruit. He stayed there awhile, deep in conversation and soon after, I see the vendor giving the fellow a huge bag of fruit, and I did not see it being paid for. I walked a little closer to listen to the conversation and deduced that the gentleman was being given this bag of fruit to distribute among the homeless people who are always wandering the streets in Manhattan. I locked up the cab, and followed this guy for several blocks, to see how it would go. The man with the fruit seemed to have a mission and the look on his face was one of great determination and joy, in what he must have thought was a good deed for the day. I watched with interest as he approached some homeless men and women, and just offered the fruit. They took it from him, even asking for more, and then began to strike up long conversations. This actually surprised me, for most of the homeless don’t want to be bothered with the crowds of people along the sidewalks unless they are begging, and they never seem to make eye contact. This was exactly the opposite of what I was seeing. They were talking, some were laughing, and the man giving out the fruit was having a really good time. I could see this in his mannerisms, and his smiling eyes, and mouth.
I had to get back to work, but during the course of the day, passed a few intersections and noticed that in Bryant Park, there was a free concert, the kind that occur regularly in New York. My eye suddenly caught the “morning fruit buyer” sitting on a chair, with several of his street friends, near by, laughing and clapping to the music.
Later in the day, I again spotted this same man, walking along the streets, and I would see him go into some shops, obviously having a good time. I don’t even know what it was that kept me looking and so interested in what he was doing, maybe it just seeing someone more than once in New York. Or perhaps it was just that the tourists usually don’t have the interest in the street people that he did. It made me feel a little twinge of regret that I too could have stopped more often to help someone out. I reminded myself of the song by Phil Collins, I believe it is called “Another Day in Paradise.” It is terribly sad to just “not see” these people and think that they too would have families and pasts that have been pushed aside, or forgotten in their present lives. Many of the homeless are people with mental illnesses that have been given up on and find solace in other street people who have lost everything.
I vowed to do better, to think about these people as real people, not just someone I may have to step over, or close my eyes to pretend they are not there.
I am very lucky to live in a city of beautiful skyscrapers, theatres, shopping, the beautiful gardens of Central Park, and I earn a decent wage. I need to take a life lesson from what I saw today, what someone can do, just by giving out some fruit taking time to talk, or even more importantly to listen. It really struck a chord, and it was an AHHHHHHA moment for me.. So thank you stranger, you don’t know it, but you taught me a lot today, and I think it will make me a better person.
Read Hersh’s own story in our Recovery Stories .