Heading back to our room early in the morning on a sweltering New York City subway car. A young man enters, announcing in a loud voice, “My name is Jim. I’m asking for any leftover food you have. My wife and our son, Danny…. His birthday is coming…. We’re not homeless,” he hastens to add, “but I don’t have a job.” Every finger clutches white plastic bags of other peoples’ unfinished dinners.
What do I do?
I stand up, take out my wallet, which has more cash than usual because we’re traveling. I begin to pull out a 10-dollar bill. “No,” I say and hand him a 20 instead.
Tears come to his eyes.
What do I say?
I sit down. “Jim, you said your son, Danny, is having a birthday soon. How old will he be?”
“Oh, my birthday is in December.”
“So’s my wife’s. What day is yours?”
“Hers is the 12th.”
A couple near us, who my husband later told me were transfixed by this interchange, hand Jim a couple of dollar bills. He steps out of the car just before it leaves the station.
I’m grateful my volunteering with vendors at Real Change helps me break through the paralysis that can grip me when I land in a situation where I’m uncomfortable.
I offer this true story, with names changed, to you because you’re customers of Real Change vendors.
Maybe you find yourself in situations you’re unaccustomed to, wondering how to respond.
Smiling is a good beginning.
Just start talking, ask questions suggested by the facts, offer statements about yourself, note commonalities in your lives, share a laugh at the absurdities of life. It gets easier.
Pamela Bradburn volunteers weekly with the vendor program and also proofreads the upcoming issue of the Real Change newspaper.
Read the full Jan. 16 - 22 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.