This post was originally shared on April 20, 2015.
As a little girl I heard stories of the city that never sleeps, a city full of life, love, lights and dreams, a city surging with people from anywhere and everywhere, flocking toward the sites and sounds, smells and tastes of world's exploration. People whom either born here and proud of their home or people drawn in from other lives to fully submerse themselves in the depths of the undertow, currents of movement, breath and life.
That little girl, who enjoyed running through hills, cold grass beneath her bare feet, swinging from tires and ropes, shouting to the unknown the dreams she had of this mystical place she'd caught a glimpse of on a trip to her first Broadway show, doll in hand, drinking in the life as if it were water quenching her thirst. The unknown fire that started in her heart sparked early, the want to explore and make this magical land hers, propelled her forward. The little snapshots she held behind her green eyes inspired her to keep dreaming, creating her own path that lead into that city.
With a few years under my belt, or not because I rarely wear a belt, (those of us with higher waistlines and boobs shouldn't...), I've been fortunate enough to experience some of the best this city has to offer, fine meals with friends at some of Manhattan's finest restaurants, shopping endeavors with screen and stage's top costume designers and a few escapades chasing the sunset, dancing in the street and laughing until we were sore. All of these were well beyond my childhood dreams, and yet, when I look back on my life here in the city, two specific Saturday nights stick out.
They weren't spent in expensive heels that were meant for lounging, they weren't spent in a restaurant, gossiping over a filet or grilled octopus (although, I am craving octo right about now...who's in?), and they weren't spent surrounded by people I knew. Both of the evenings I am referring to were spent taking part in Midnight Run with fellow members of my All Saints Hoboken community. Midnight Run is a sponsored program in which organizations can sign up to prepare food and clothing donations and deliver them directly to the homeless women & men at 4-6 designated stops throughout Manhattan. While the name doesn't directly relate to the activity, as we arrived in the city both evenings around 10pm, and the "running" was mostly just to gather folks who were nestled in their make-shift homes or resting spots around each drop off.
With 2 cars packed with sandwiches, hot chili, water, juice boxes, coffee, cookies, fruit and other goodies, and another with sorted jackets, sweaters, sweat shirts, gloves and hats, we ventured into the city for our first run on February 1st, silently praying everyone would have found shelter on one of the coldest nights of the year. Unfortunately, just after we popped open the trunks to our cars, folks started to come from all angles, as if following a beacon to our haven. In the moments leading up to my first "hello", I was terrified. Would they be friendly? What would they say? Would they be angry at me for trying to help? I have spent most of my life volunteering throughout neighboring towns back in Connecticut, but nothing could have prepared me for Manhattan. This was a whole new arena.
As thoughts of regret and fear filled my head, my heart and voice blurted out "Hello there! Would you like some dinner?", like a voice was provided for me, to an older gentleman who approached with a smile. Looking back, I think he was just as uncomfortable as I was, both of us unsure of how to proceed. He was the beginning of many, very kind, friendly, patient men who were genuinely grateful with the food we provided, following with thanks, graciousness and blessings. Some were more chatty than others, willing to chat about the weather, sports, one about his passion for music when I noted his guitar strapped to his back.
"Music is my life. I'll do whatever it takes to have someone hear me play. This is what I will do."
In a way, I feel foolish for thinking even for a second that my interactions with them would be frightening. While, yes, there are precautions to be taken in any social situation, most, if not all, of the people I met that evening, and the one most recently this past weekend, were polite, respectful and pleasantly friendly. In the brief moments that we were talking, there wasn't any difference between their lives and mine, we were just humans, conversing over a meal, humans who followed different paths, living in a city we all called home. Our conversations were natural, small-talk, not surprisingly better than some I've had with people of significant wealth.
Looking back at both evenings, my path in life may not be concrete, hell, it may not even be a dirt road running through the trees, but I will follow the people with whom I've felt life with, people who breathe the same energy in the city air, people who don't hesitate for "hello" but live in the moment. The people I met on those two Saturday evenings, while the rest of Manhattan was dancing in the street, chasing the sunsets, and enjoying their "poppy" events, are the people of New York. They are the people I believe in, the people that give me hope, drive and courage to push through the tough times because there will always be a helping hand out there to grasp, as long as you look for it and have a kind heart, there will be someone to provide. Times get rough but as people, New Yorkers, we get tough and find the life we've dreamed of, even if it's just a smile with a sandwich, pushing us one night and day closer to our future.
Those two Saturday nights seem to make all the other nights feel even brighter, they make the darker days glow with hope. If people who collect their belongings in pockets, their meals from trunks and the drive to continue on day by day from some thing greater than you or I, then they are the true inspiration for the world. Their stories, time and graciousness will be carried in my pocket forever. Thank you, New York.