Marlboro Blacks

The other day I was on the ferry on my way to work. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and it wasn’t hot out yet. It was the 8:30 am boat. I was sitting next to this man who reaked of cigarettes. His nails needed to be trimmed in the worst way. He proudly showed me and the people sitting across from us his new pack of cigarettes, they were called “Marlboro Blacks”. He was so impressed with this new pack. He then told me and the people across the seat that his birthday was coming up this weekend. I said, “Happy Birthday”and feigned interest to be polite and tried not to encourage conversation. But I couldn’t be rude. Honestly you could tell there was something up with this guy I mean who would show off a new pack of cigs to strangers?

He kept talking to me though. I nodded politely and he kept talking. He told me his mother kicked him out of the house when he was 27 years old because she was convinced he robbed her. He said he was once homeless. I couldn’t bring myself to ask if he was still homeless. We talked about how the ferry ride is free and what would he do if they decided to charge money for the ferry? I didn’t have an answer.

He didn’t ask my name and I didn’t ask his. He asked me if I cooked and I said yes, for my family. He then changed the subject and told me he was attacked and raped by a group of men “up in the Bronx”. That this group of men would listen to one man and do whatever he told them to do. I didn’t know what to say after that. I thought about my family how lucky I am to have them. That I have a house and a husband who loves me and works so hard to provide for us. I felt incredibly blessed and guilty for being so blessed all at the same time. The man spoke of another man giving him $1.00 without him asking for it or showing him his cup as he took a cup out of his jacket pocket. He never asked me for money.

I wondered why God placed me there next to this man and why was he telling me all this? Was I supposed to pray with him? I couldn’t bring myself to talk about God. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about much of anything I just listened and nodded. Maybe that’s what I was supposed to do?

The boat docked and I told him I had to go. We said goodbye and I was on my way to work and returned to my regularly scheduled life.

The least of these

Last week I was on the subway and there was an obviously homeless man sprawled out sleeping on the seats across from me.  He was very disheveled, dirty and his hair was all over the place, like it hadn’t been cut or groomed since who knows when.  Being the people watcher that I am I found this man fascinating.  Every now and then he would half awake and mimic in a high pitched voice the subway conductor who would warn, “Stay clear of the closing doors” between each stop.  I couldn’t stop staring at him all the while thinking of what Jesus taught that what we do to the least of them, we also do for him.  I will admit the homeless man scared me.  I was afraid he would catch me staring at him when he opened his eyes now and then.  I kept thinking, “Was I supposed to do something” for him as a Christian?  Where’s the rule book?  I didn’t  do anything except stare and watch him wondering about his life.  He wasn’t asking for money or food, he was merely sleeping on the crowded subway.  Was he ok with being homeless, was he mentally ill?  The thought that he may be mentally ill made me sad. This man was somebody’s son maybe brother.

I’m not proud that I was afraid of him.  But the whole subway ride I kept thinking of Jesus and what He would have done which was a heck of a lot more than I did.  I was wondering because I call myself a Christian am I really talking the talk and walking the walk?  I don’t believe it would have been a safe thing to do, to approach this man alone as a woman, but it make me think more about Jesus and what He would have done.