48: Hungry in the Big Apple

48: Hungry in the Big Apple

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

  
Hungry in the Big Apple

Sometimes it is better to give your apple away
than to eat it yourself.

~Italian proverb

My first winter in New York City was something I had been anticipating for a long time. At twenty-three years old, I was working and playing in one of the most exciting cities in the world. I couldn’t wait to experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and attend the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. The streets were lined with enchanting window displays that lured passersby with their magical beauty, tempting children with treasures that lay waiting inside, while the scent of warm roasted chestnuts lingered in the chilly air, arousing your lethargic appetite. This holiday season was going to be one of the best, or so I thought.

I rushed towards Penn Station with the hordes of people just getting off work. It was the same race every day to get to the express train before it reached its capacity. Normally mild-mannered individuals morphed into ferocious beasts marking their territory and devouring anyone and anything in their path. Coming from the South, this ritual was alarming to me, but here in the Big Apple, it was a way of life I was going to have to get used to. It was rare that I made the express train and today was no exception. As the heavy steel doors closed, I turned in search of a bench to rest my weary body. Off in the distance, I saw something stirring in a dark corner of the station. It was too big to be an animal, though I had heard rumors of city rats being the size of small dogs. As I took a closer look, the object came into full view.

“My god, it’s a child,” I whispered.

I got up and slowly made my way towards the area. Huddled closely together were a young woman and little boy. Both were masked by layers of dirt and grime and what had once been their clothes were nothing but tattered rags draping their frail bodies. Neither was wearing shoes or a coat. The flow of traffic around me continued at a fast pace, never once ceasing to acknowledge this poor family. Did anyone care? Looking down at my watch, I noticed the time. My fiancé was going to worry if I didn’t make it home soon. Reluctantly, I turned and ran for the approaching train. All I could think about on the ride home was the image of the young mother and child. I was flooded with guilt for not giving them my own coat to keep warm.

When I got home, I told my fiancé, who grew up in New York, about what I saw that afternoon. He explained, “Sweetheart, I know you’re not accustomed to seeing the homeless and I understand you want to help, but there are an abundance of these families in the city and it’s impossible to help them all. Don’t worry; you’ll get used to them.”

The words he spoke stung my ears. I didn’t want to get used to seeing those poor people suffering. But I was only one person, and there wasn’t a lot I could do to help, was there? The next morning, we raced around the apartment trying to get ready for work. I hurried to the refrigerator and grabbed our lunches. We had decided to start taking our lunch since it was so expensive to eat in the city every day.

When we reached Penn Station, we went our separate ways. As I made my way up the stairs into the frigid air of the city, I shivered. The coat I was wearing wasn’t much help and my feet were becoming numb. Just as I was beginning to feel sorry for myself, I saw an old man curled up under the awning of a deli. He was barely clothed and his cheeks were hollow. Glancing down at the paper bag pressed tightly against my chest, I knew what I must do. I shuffled over to the old man and offered the bag. His weather-beaten hand reached out and took my gift. He opened the top, and looked inquisitively inside.

“I thought you might want something to snack on later,” I heard myself say.

The old man looked up and grinned, “Thank you child, God bless you. Now run along before you catch a cold.”

“Yes sir,” I whispered.

He nodded and pulled an apple from the bag. I watched him begin to consume the fruit before continuing towards my office. Meager as it was, I had found a way I could give to the homeless. From that day on, it was rare that I showed up to work with my lunch still in tow, but I never once felt a pang of hunger.

~Tasha Mitchell

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