Last evening, I was unexpectedly invited to a stage play and a little celebration afterwards with friends. Dressing up in my best clothes for the theatre, I found a $20.00 bill in a long-unused pocket, and happily left it there as "treat money" for one of my friends. After all, it was her birthday, and my first girls' night out in well over a year, since becoming the mother of breastfeeding twins. Feeling light and free, I went to catch my train.
"People-watching" as the subway doors opened and closed at each stop, and passengers passed on and off the train, my eye was drawn to an African-American man who stepped into the subway car. He carried a satchel and there was something compelling about his demeanor, as though he was trying to hold onto his dignity.
The man took a seat not far from me, leaned over his hand and counted a few coins in his palm. Then, softly, very softly, I barely heard him ask, "Can anyone give me a dollar? I am just trying to get home to my mother. I just got out of prison."
I stood, reached into my pocket, walked over to where the man sat, and pressed the $20.00 bill into his palm. I made direct eye contact with the man, and simply said, "God bless you."
Turning to walk back to my seat, I caught the eye of another African-American man who had obviously witnessed the quiet exchange. He shot me a look that said, "You're just a rich white woman easing your guilt over being so materialistic by giving a poor black man a dollar or two. He'll probably waste it, with the rest of the money he pockets today, on booze or drugs."
I thought to myself, "No, you don't get to make that assumption. Perhaps this man has been to prison, perhaps not. If he was in prison as he claimed, and likely he was, he probably did something terrible to get there. But if he's out now, he's paid his debt to society, and he deserves a second chance. And if he hasn't been in prison, he's obviously traveling a hard road. He may spend it on booze or drugs. He may waste the money on a number of things. Perhaps he will use the money for a sandwich, or a cab ride home to his mother. It doesn't matter. No matter what his truth is, he's hurting. He's a fellow human being and for that reason alone, he deserves kindness, and that's what I offered him."
I realized at a deeper level than ever before that I cannot attach myself to outcome. When I offer a gift - a blessing - it has to be freely given, with no strings attached. Sometimes, you just do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. In so doing, a little more kindness lights the world.
And I thought: This is what's missing in this country, in the world. We don't feel each other's humanity.
Upon reaching his subway stop, the man picked up his bag and got off the train. I looked out the window. He turned for a moment, smiled at me and shot me a finger-gesture.
It was the peace sign.