Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Homeless in New York City: A Neighbor Who Loves Her Dog

Walking on a busy New York City sidewalk late at night, I noticed a woman sitting with a sign asking for any help possible. I attempted to speak to her, but she did not seem able to communicate well at that moment. Her dog slept beside her on a layer of newspapers she had spread out for the dog’s comfort. As I watched a stream of people walk by, I couldn’t help but notice that the woman was leaning against a trash container, over full with large sacks of garbage setting on the sidewalk near the woman and her backpack. The image struck me as the all-too familiar human refuse sitting with the other items to be discarded.

Margaret Bourke-White’s iconic images of poverty and displacement in the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era became the collection You Have Seen Their Faces as she documented the social upheavals in American culture of the period. Studying these images, learning and finding lessons in the economic history of the period, and applying our understanding to the present and future for our culture and country are important tasks. But the first and simplest task is to recognize and respond to the humanity that we all share.

If everyone who walked on by had given her a dollar, it may not have helped with the root cause of her homelessness. But everyone walking by could smile and say hello. Everyone could recognize the universal and shared condition of our common bond. We are all just people, more alike than different. We are all subject to the same doubts and fears and desires, the same pain and the same pleasure.

Sitting on the hard New York City sidewalk with the garbage, cold and alone and hungry, she first tried to make her sole companion more comfortable than she made herself. And that is what we do in our houses and mansions and palaces. We take care of those that matter to us. We are all just alike at the core and each of us should matter to the other.

Words and Images by Al Griffin