She had dark black bruises around both eyes. Her hair hung limply around her face. Her clothes were the indistinguishable black of every other New Yorker. She sat at the foot of the subway steps, with her back against the wall. Her son lie with his head down in her lap. I never saw his face. He was either asleep, or perhaps too tired or sick to sit up. In fact, if you walked by them fast enough, you would not have even known he was there. He was a small lump that could have passed for a rumpled-up blanket. Until you saw his shoes. His little sneakers gave him away.
It was this woman’s eyes that struck me. Those espresso-colored eyes with their awful bruises underneath. They glanced up at me with a look of utter exhaustion, as if even the slow movement of her eyeballs up toward me was painful. She didn’t have to speak to me—this look said more than her words ever could. She was despondent, hurt, defeated.
I stepped to her side, out of the continual flow of foot traffic up and down the subway stairs. I reached into my purse to pull out my wallet. I handed her a $5 bill and for a split second, her eyes lit up with the recognition that someone saw her. Someone stopped.
“God bless you. God bless you. God bless you,” she said to me.
I touched her hand. I nodded and gave her a small smile as I fought back tears.
I stepped away and walked up the stairs, ascending into a gorgeous fall evening in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in all of the city. No sooner did my feet hit the sidewalk before the tears came. Hot, wet crocodile tears streaming down my face.
I wept. I wept for this woman. For her son. For all the broken, the lost, the hungry. And for a few blocks, I couldn’t stop.
Streams of people continued all around me. I am sure someone saw me crying, but I let the tears flow freely. I realized I normally wouldn’t have even seen this woman, but on this night, she was put in my path. On this night, I had gotten off the subway at a different stop than my usual. I had planned to walk the rest of the way home while talking on the phone to my best friend.
As I began walking and dialed my friend’s number, the tears were still coming. I had a hard time catching my breath as I explained to her what had happened.
It’s okay; they’re good tears. Well, no, they’re really not good, but I’m okay. I’m sad.
There’s such brokenness in this world, Em. People are hurting. It is so hard, and I don’t know what to do.
A five-dollar bill created such a look of relief in this woman’s face. With five dollars, she and her son could each ride the subway one way. Or they could go to the McDonald’s down the street and buy two McDoubles, two sodas, and Chicken McNuggets off the Dollar Menu. But that’s it. Transportation or food. One or the other.
And yet she looked at me like I had given her the world.
Please hear me: This post is not my way of urging you to donate money, or to donate more money. This is not me patting myself on the back for helping this woman. This is me confessing how little I do to help. I don’t stop for each homeless person. I don’t volunteer at a shelter. I don’t often pray for them. I didn’t even understand the importance of tithing until recently. I am a good person, but I know I can do better. We can all do better.
Once I walked away from this woman, I immediately regretted not doing something more. Why didn’t I offer to take her to a women’s shelter, or take her to eat a real meal? I didn’t even tell her I would pray for her, or that she has a Father who loves her very much. Because when I looked in her eyes, all I could do was cry. Seeing my fellow human being in such a state really shook me.
It's so easy for me to complain about my life. I grumble about not feeling fulfilled in my career. I worry about my future and my finances. I stress about my social life and freelance work and finding time to fit it all in. Meanwhile the crestfallen and hopeless are literally lying at my feet.
It hurts to see a person in such brokenness because we are not meant to live like that. We weren’t designed for suffering. But we live in a fallen world, and suffering thrives.
My hope rests in the new earth, a time when suffering will be no more, when peace and joy will reign throughout. I am so very grateful to our God who provides that and who has adopted us into His kingdom.
But while I’m still here, on this earth and in New York City, what can I do?
There are almost 60,000 homeless people in NYC alone. It’s overwhelming. I pray that the Lord would open my eyes to one person who I can help. To put one person in front of me. One person who I can have a relationship with, who I can pray for, and who I can extend more than a $5 bill.
Maybe this woman is my person.
In that moment, my eyes were opened. If I see her again, I will talk to her. I will let her know that she is not alone. I will do what I can to get her and her son to safety. Most importantly, I will pray. Whether I see her again or not, she is still out there, still wounded and hurting.
Father, protect her and her son. I pray that you provide food for them to eat and a safe, warm place to rest their heads. I pray they would know you and find hope in you. And Father, I ask that you cultivate a heart of gratitude in me. Help me respond to the plight of others around me in however you enable me to do so. Help me to take action. Make us a city of doers, Lord. A city that believes in spreading kindness and humanity toward our fellow neighbors. Give us your strength to fight for our brothers and sisters, God. Make us more like Your Son, and help us remember His love and His mercy knows no bounds. Thy will be done. I pray all these things through Jesus Christ. Amen.