City life is hard. It's hard on the body, mind and soul. You can become…
Finding beauty on the streets of New York City
I was a bit of a hot mess, as I can be. Picture the heart of the New York evening commute, a busy midtown street corner. It was cold, and as people rushed by for their trains near Grand Central Station, I saw a man all bundled up on the concrete with a cardboard sign that I could barely find an opening to read. My purse was overflowing with books and papers and who knows what else. But I knew I had some cash, and I knew I had some food. So I stopped at a phone booth — I barely knew they still existed — and dug through for some small attempt to help. I found a gluten-free fig bar, a Kind bar with coconut and apricot and a water. It was perhaps the oddest combination to offer ever. And $10.
When I finally made my way back around the corner, having to wait and find a quick way through the crowd without startling the man, I read some of the writing on the brown cardboard — he was a disabled vet. When I greeted him, he looked a little surprised. Whenever that happens, I wonder how long it’s been since someone looked him in the eye with love.
When he revealed his face, I was a little dazzled. He had such a beautiful face. Yes, he was handsome and rugged. But it was more than the surface level. There was a real goodness, a light that was being turned on in the darkness. He also had a great New York accent. I almost texted a friend who works a few blocks away who is married to a New York Police Department detective. Her husband has one of those great, authentic New York accents and looks. And then, when I introduced myself, he said his name is Daniel.
I wondered what kept him from being another one of New York’s finest, as I find that many police officers sound just like him. But here he is, sitting on the cold concrete with a plastic cup for change.
And the thing is — the thing he probably doesn’t fully appreciate, and most of us frequently don’t either — he is one of New York’s finest. Because when I stopped and looked into his eyes, I saw the Lord. I saw love. I saw a man with hopes and dreams. And his soul is still alive, despite whatever happened that got him to this point. He was so kind to pathetic-little-me with some silly snacks to offer. We can do so much more. I understand why Dorothy Day did what she did, taking people in beyond her capacity, because there is so much love.
In recent weeks, I had a conversation with a man who would simply say, “Thank you. I’m down on my luck and, believe me, I’m trying.” He was grateful for a little money and some McDonald’s. He said, “Thank you for doing something. I really appreciate it.”
I increasingly wish I had a place right there in midtown where I could welcome some of these men in for a hot meal and some warmth. The Missionaries of Charity have one in a rough section of the Bronx that I accidentally walked into one day while I was looking for the chapel. It was another scene of beauty. It was like being at the doorway of heaven. God takes these souls first and foremost.
I’m not sugarcoating it; some of these men had filth on their faces and clothes that were tattered and torn, and there is, of course, anger and bitterness and confusion and addiction and illness. But I also encounter so much gratitude on the streets of Manhattan and elsewhere — so many looks of love. I don’t know why I’m sharing this other than to tell you this: Don’t deprive yourself and others of the unappreciated beauty in the human heart.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.