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My Subway Buddy

Moses had to climb a mountain to get a religious experience. Saint Peter had to walk on water (almost drowning in the process). Saint Paul had to go blind. Saint Francis got the stigmata. The three shepherd children in Fatima  had to see the Blessed Virgin Mary. I got to go on a subway train ride.

So I was leaving school for the day on a packed platform, hoping to get a seat in the packed subway train that was rolling up. I had my rosary in hand because a friend of mine had posted that their grandmother was passing away from cancer. I was making good on my word to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for their grandmother. As the subway train screeched to a halt, I got super excited to find that there was a plethora of seats available towards the front of the car. My inner tired scientist rejoiced. As I walked in, a very intense odor hit my nose. This isn't the first time I got on a particularly smelly subway car. However, this was the strongest odor I had encountered to date. A split second upon entering the car, I realized why it was so empty. The smell was very strong and very terrible.

At first, I was too absorbed in prayer to notice the source of the smell...but after some time, I realized that it was coming from a homeless man who was seated at the very front by the door. One by one, everyone that had come into the car with me either got out of it or moved to the back. I, on the other hand, remained where I was. I offered up it up and continued to sit a few yards away from this man as I prayed.

Every so and so often, my eyes kept straying back to him. He was homeless. He had dread locks. He was overweight. He was wearing very shabby clothing. He looked like any other homeless man. None of this really caught my attention. What really caught my attention was his loneliness and acquiescence to his state of life. I wondered when he had last had human contact. Judging by how people were so repelled by the smell on the subway, I quickly surmised that he must have had very little human contact. I was so moved by pity for him that I started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for him after I took out the $2 in my wallet and put it in my pocket.

In intended to give the money to him as I left the train. When it comes to giving money or food to the poor, I tend to do it as I leave the car. I tend to stick out like a sore thumb when I am on the subway. I dress like a broke college student (because that's what I am for the most part), but I am usually the only white girl in her 20s riding the subway at certain times of the day. As a rule, I try playing the poor college student card as much as I can so I don't get mugged or robbed. I've had a few instances in my commute where I have been called something or have had someone try to intimidate or scare me because I didn't fit into a particular group...so I try not to draw too much unwanted attention. Also, I try to practice caution just in case the homeless person I am helping has some sort of mental instability (this has happened too). To make a long story short, I tend to give money or food as I am leaving a place.

Back to the story...

At one of the stops, a group of young men and a woman came in. They must have been in their twenties, or early thirties at most. As soon as they walked into the train (it was filling up at that point), they start being completely obnoxious. They literally start making fun of the homeless guy, pretending that they are spraying themselves with deodorant, and pretty much being the worst examples of humanity that they could possibly be. They start loudly making fun of everything about this homeless man. They loudly make fun of his weight, his smell...treating him like he has no dignity whatsoever. They start laughing raucously and some other passengers start joining in with the laughing.

A great example of righteous anger....
Christ Cleansing the Temple
by Bernardino Mei
Can you believe how easily it can be for society to scorn an individual and/or make them invisible? Can you believe how little it takes for our cruelty to come forth? Can you believe how terrible we can be? These people acted like little more than animals in human bodies. Nothing like picking on the most marginalized members of the human race and getting cheap laughs to make us feel better about our own lives. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting behavior.

I see this disgusting behavior, and I start getting hot tears in my eyes. I am almost shaking with fury...and a need for action. I am not afraid of this boisterous group of young men and women. I am angry. For the first time in my life I felt a powerful sense of righteous anger. I felt the same anger that Saint Michael must have felt when he drove Lucifer from heaven. The same anger when he cried out "QUIS UT DEUS!" or for us English-speakers "Who but God is great!?!" I was so incredibly angered by their actions and yet, I found myself asking God for forgiveness on their behalf. I wanted to just get up and yell to their faces "THIS COULD BE YOU ONE DAY! THIS COULD BE YOUR DAD, YOUR LOVED ONES, YOUR FRIENDS ONE DAY! YOUR FINANCIAL SECURITY NOW MEANS NOTHING!!!Therefore, treat him as you would hope to be treated if you ever found yourself in his situation."

I was so completely consumed by this feeling of complete anger at their actions...but I still could not help but love them as well and feel sorry for their terrible attitudes. I did not look at them and ask God to strike them down with lightning. I looked at them and understood "Forgive them, for they know now what they do." Perhaps they will one day see their mistakes. Perhaps they never will. However, as I watched them go on and on, I got so angry that I just got up from my seat and went over to the homeless man. I stood right next to where he sat,  between him and the people making fun of him. I didn't care that I was supposed to get off a few stops later. I figured the homeless guy just needed to be treated like a human and part of me just wanted to show these other people that at least one person on the train was capable of taking "love one another" to heart...

The homeless guy asked me if I had a dollar and I was reminded of the $2 in my pocket. I gave them to him and we started talking. He asked me if I was Muslim, because he had seen me praying with beads. I told him no, that I was Portuguese. I then realized what he asked and told him that I was Catholic. He starts telling me about how there's so many terrible people in this world and I tell him that there are a few good people out there. He then proceeds to say that there aren't enough of them and that the world is full of greed, corruption, and evil. His tone was not angry, even though he had a right to complain. He had the tone of someone who had lost all hope in human kindness. He seemed to have simply accepted the fact that the world was a cruel place. This guy, I am sure, had suffered a lot and still suffered living on the street. The example of those other people on the train gave me some idea of what he most likely had to suffer on a daily basis. If anyone out there has a right to complain and be bitter...it's this guy. However, he is not bitter and angry at everything. In fact, he's soon cracking jokes and sharing laughs with me.

At some point we just started talking like we were old friends. I don't smell anything anymore...but I find that I like his sense of humor. I tell him that he only thinks there's no good people out there because all the good people live in Jersey (where I am from). I ask him if he believes in any higher being and he tells me his a Christian. This floored me. You see, there are so many people out there who turn their back on God when life goes awry. There's people who give up on God over the most trivial things. If there's anyone out there you'd expect to give up on God...it's this guy. Yet, he's still a Christian. He's on the street. He's being humiliated every day by people who took it upon themselves to deprive the poor of their humanity. He's cold. He's hungry. He's dressed in rags. He's isolated from the world around him and he is treated like dirt every day...but he's still holding on to his faith.

Wow. If there ever was a time that I wished I was carrying a pocket full of $100 bills...this was it.   There are times when I cannot help but question God and times where my faith is hanging on by a thread. This guy's faith puts mine to shame. Here I am, struggling through my own life and sometimes feeling like God's left me to fend for myself. Here's this homeless guy simply accepting his lot in life, simply telling God "thy will be done" as he continues his struggle to survive. Talk about strong faith. It's faith like his that make me realize just how much more faith I need.

We had a nice conversation and then parted ways once my stop came up. He told me that he hoped he would see me again. I told him that I would like to see him again too...and you know what? I actually meant it.

Pax Vobiscum

3 comments:

  1. God bless you. A link is on the way in a post later today.

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  2. I love you for this. For your actions.... and for writing it so beautifully to share it.

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  3. Awesome! Thank you for sharing! I take the train to school in downtown Houston everyday and i'm still working up the courage to go talk to the homeless that are riding along too. Thanks for the push!

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