Summer in Manhattan can be miserable. The air is sticky and stale and smells sharply of urine, exhaust fumes, and rotting food. Coming from New Hampshire, it’s the one part of New York City that my body hasn’t been able to adjust to yet. On the hottest and most humid days I find it barely breathable, and it leads to a near-constant feeling of almost suffocating, of being unable to take a full breath. It’s really not pleasant and I am always happy to escape it. I don’t mind the heat at all, and I can tolerate the stickiness, but the feeling of being unable to fill my lungs irritates me when I pay attention to it.
The ones who can’t escape it, of course, are the ones who are forced to spend their days outside. The homeless. They can escape the sun, ducking under doorways and scaffolding to be in the shade. But the heat and humidity, they are stuck with. And they accept this and resign themselves to it – much more gracefully than I do, I might add.
Their resignation is sad to me sometimes, but I have to say it has a positive side. It means that more people are staying in one place. In accepting the temperature and air quality for what they are, they are less determined to get away from it. To me, this means one thing: that the homeless I encounter along my route are more likely to be there the next day as well.
And that’s how it’s been. There is a man Bradley, who I see periodically but more often of late. I talked to him back in the spring. He is always pleasant and conversational, and has a daughter he still clearly loves (I don’t know how old she is or when he lost custody/contact with her and her mother). His head is full of conspiracy theories and paranoia about both the government system and religion, and he had lost his sense of self so much that he no longer even goes by a name. It took a lot of coaxing to get him to say that his parents named him Bradley.
Then there is another man who I can count on being in front of the Dunkin Donuts, right next to my subway stop. He is polite and always surprised that I stop for him. But for the past few days, he has been there, we’ve said hello and I buy him a coffee. I have yet to learn his name or talk about anything substantial with him, but for now this seems enough. It seems enough to bless him with my small offering of a coffee, and to call Bradley by name and bring him back to an identity of sorts. I trust God to lead us from here.
In the meantime, these men are fast becoming constants in my commute and I’m grateful for them. Overall, as much as I don’t like it, I am grateful for the stale summer air of Manhattan. It reminds that the city isn’t necessarily an easy place for anyone – homeless or otherwise. It reminds me to walk with compassion and gratitude in my heart. The short-term hardship (and a perceived one at that) reminds me to pray for those who have real hardship here.