I hate the subway. I hate the mob mentality at Penn Station. I hate the pushing, personal space violations, the rushing, the shoving, the obnoxious rolling bags that threaten your ankles whenever a careless tourist decides to take a mad dash to their "ALL ABOARD" train. Forget the Galapagos Island finches, I am sure Darwin came up with his theory of natural selection at the ship port while he was still waiting to board the HMS Beagle. I am sure he was able to fine tune his theory as he watched other passengers survive their sea voyage by creating hierarchies amongst themselves and picking on whoever it was that never quite fit in.
I've never been at sea for a very long time, but having worked in a lab for most of my adult life...I can assure you that seeing the same people in the same space every day can bring out the worst in some. Pecking orders arise, people are thrown under the bus, and all kinds of tensions pop up almost out of nowhere sometimes. People can be awful and, as I am a very flawed individual, I can be awful too. As such, I can understand that it doesn't take much for the worst to be brought out of someone when they are in crowded places...as the Fool and a few of my friends and they will tell you how awful I can be at a concert when someone is trying to shove me to the side as they fight for a place in the front. I don't take kindly to people doing this after I have spent most of my day in line, hoping for a spot that a vertically-challenge hobbit like myself can see the band from.
I've been reflecting on how awful New York has made me over the years I've spent commuting. Seeing people living in poverty everyday is hard on people like me. If I had $100 in singles in my pocket, I could not even come close to helping everyone I see on a day-to-day basis. I can't bear to look at all the poor I see, especially when I know that I am not very well-off myself. I can't help everyone and this thought, strange as it sounds, is crippling. It makes me less charitable, knowing that I cannot help everyone.
But I can still love them. I can still give them a smile instead of turning my eyes down and briskly walking past them. I can still envision them as people.
I can still pray for them and hope the best for them even when I am too afraid to say anything. I can still offer them what I do have with me, even if it isn't much...instead of pretending I don't see them just because I don't have money in my wallet. As one of the monks I know continually says, it is not about the sin. God knows our sins. What He wants is for us to change so that we may prove that we are actually sorry for our sins when we go to confession. It is about the intention we hold in our hearts and what we do with this intention. If my own charity has become a victim to the every-man-for-himself mentality of the big city...this is what needs to change.
Even if I cannot help every person....and even if I do not happen to have money in my pocket....
...I can share my lunch with a woman holding a sign up that is asking for money. I may not have money, but I have my credit card-purchased lunch. I had a cup of water from the cooler in front of my doctor's office...so I can give this woman my iced tea and just because I happen to have it, I can ask her if she likes chocolate. If she happens to like chocolate or just make a comment that she is hungry...I give her my credit card-purchased fine extra dark Ritter chocolate.
...I can still help an older couple carry their luggage down a flight of steps even if it means getting to work a bit later. Even if it means having to overcome this fear of just talking to or interacting with strangers on any given day. God knows the sacrifices introverts go through to simply wish someone a good day...
...I can still smile. Pope Francis tells us we should look people in the eye when we are charitable. As useful as money can be to people living in poverty....sometimes there is a yearning in their hearts to simply be treated as human beings. I can give someone a smile that radiates love if I have just given my last $3 to a sleeping homeless person. And I can do it again at some point in the future when I catch another homeless person on the street with nothing in hand to offer. God knows the sacrifices introverts go through to simply smile at strangers...
Spontaneously loving people gets a bit easier with practice. The more you do it, the harder it is for you to walk away from strangers in need. I know I don't do it perfectly just yet and there are still times when I look down, ignore, or simply pretend that there is nothing wrong with the world. There are times when my introverted nature gets the best of me. However, I have gotten to the point where I will at least offer a prayer up for each person-in-need that I encounter...regardless of how drunk, dirty, scary, etc. they may seem on the outside. I'm getting better at it and even if I still have my failures when it comes to spontaneously loving other people....God knows my intentions and He knows what I am up against every time I try to reach out to someone in need of a bit of charity.