In NYC, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid people asking for money. At all the major intersections, on every subway line and in every neighborhood, it’s likely that there is a beggar, struggling musician, homeless person, or all three.
For me, seeing these people always presents a kind of moral struggle. I’m by no means rich (I’m an entry-level magazine journalist with college loans paying New York rent–you do the math), but I am able to support myself as a young woman on her own, and I do consider myself very, very fortunate. So when I see these people–some that are war veterans, some that are talented but poor musicians who will probably never be recognized, and some that clearly haven’t seen real shelter or a shower in months–my heart literally breaks, and I feel almost an obligation (and some guilt, too) to give some of the little bit that I do have.
But over time, I’ve had to come up with my own way of giving back, because at the end of the day, there are two harsh realities. The first: I can’t be superwoman. There are simply too many people who have gotten a bad draw in life to try to help or save them all, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. And, at this stage in my life, I can’t rack myself with guilt over it. The second: It sounds like typical NY skepticism, but you really don’t know if the person asking you for money is telling the truth. There’s just no way to know if after you leave, the man asking for help for his handicap is going to take your money and go buy drugs.
So, my personal “giving” rule is this: I only give to those that I feel a true connection with. It may seem a little sappy or silly in such a fast-moving, hard-knocks city, but it works for me. It’s hard to explain how I come to feel a “connection,” but it starts with the people who I can tell from looking in their eyes are truly genuine. The people’s whose sad spirits I can feel. The people I can relate to–a single woman or a little girl and her mother. Or the people who just really impress me.
A good example happened on the train one night a few months ago. There was woman with piercing blue eyes and blonde hair down to her waist. She looked about my age, and she was scarily thin. It looked like the raggedy guitar with missing strings was the only item she owned. Yes, a typical, struggling/possibly homeless musician. But when she started singing Alicia Keys “No One” in an alternative, acoustic version, she sang it with so much passion and soul that I literally got goosebumps. The melody was so original and her voice was so clear and heartfelt that I literally got teary eyed. So, I gave her my last five dollar bill. And wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t get the girl out of my mind for the rest of the day.
So, call me snobby for picking and choosing, or call me naive for thinking that a few dollars will really make a difference, but either way, when I do find a way to give back in this crazy city, it makes me feel darn good.
How does everybody else decide to give–or do you give at all?