Yesterday I saw something here in New York, I’ve never seen before, in 20+ years of living here. It was about 11am and I was approaching the northeast corner of 35th and 7th. As I crossed the street, I caught a glimpse of a person crouching in an awkward position in the shadow of a public phone booth. Looking closer, I saw that it was someone’s butt. Then I realized that a man who looked to be homeless was defecating. The sidewalks were packed and people were rushing by. But here in our midst was a person in desperate need.
So many emotions flooded me. I felt like crying but I just kept on walking too. A few paces on, I saw several young well-dressed men looking behind me and smirking. I felt like screaming at them, at anyone who would listen: why should he have to resort to this? What must it be like not to have a place to go to the bathroom when one needs to go? What have we done to deserve to not have to make that kind of choice?
Seeing the man somewhat obscured by the phone booth suggested, to me, a desire for privacy, or even dignity. Don’t we all want that when we go to relieve ourselves? Shouldn’t that be a basic right of every human being? What kind of city do we live in where the average apartment in Manhattan costs well in excess of a million dollars and yet there’s a whole cadre of people who have no place to lay their heads and no private facilities to use?
Later that afternoon I had lunch with a leader that I work with. She had recently visited a family in Bed Stuy who had just lost their 17 year old son and brother to gun violence. Being raised in a home without a dad, he’d become a father-figure for his much younger siblings and assumed a role as the man of the house for his mother. His death made no sense; he basically died because he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
For the second time in a matter of hours, my heart felt tugged at, pulled in all sorts of conflicting directions.
I want to see redemption in these stories, I want the lives of these men to count for something but as I sit here and think about them, my viewed is obscured.
Beauty from ashes feels beyond my grasp.
Yet I believe in a God who is making all things new. So that hope I must cling to, remaining certain of that which I cannot see.