I posted this as a Facebook note in December 2009 after a trip to New York and thought I would post it to my blog and share it again.
The Christmas Gift I Received in NY.
by Patrick Carden on Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 6:54pm
When I was planning my trip to New York, I fully intended to go and enjoy the Christmas experience, i.e. lights, decorations, store windows, etc. I thought I would go to a Broadway show, eat at some nice restaurants and do all the things tourists do. I did not expect to receive a very special Christmas present on my visit.
We saw Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, The Statue of Liberty, Central Park and so many other wonderful sights. The city was decorated beyond belief! There were so many lights and decorations, it was beautiful! We couldn’t help but get in the Christmas spirit. But as we walked the streets and experienced the city, I saw something that a guy from small town Alabama doesn’t see very often…..homelessness and poverty. There were people covered with cardboard or plastic sleeping on the steps of churches. The fortunate ones (if you can call them fortunate) had a sleeping bag or blanket. Some of the churches allow the homeless to sleep in the doorways to stay out of the cold. I don’t understand how much warmer you can be on a 30 degree night just by staying in a doorway, but that’s all they had. I’ll have to admit that the first time I saw these people I did turn my head and thought that if I didn’t see them, it wouldn’t affect me. But the more I saw, the more it did affect me and every time I saw another person sleeping on a step or laying in the halls of the subway system, my heart hurt.
Yes my heart hurt but not enough because I didn’t have any personal interaction with any of these people. That is until the second night of our trip. It had rained all day and was about 40 degrees. After walking all day in the rain we decided to take a couple hours to get dry and warm. We then went to dinner and did some shopping. We ended up at Bloomingdale’s. I had finished and was standing outside the front door with a friend of mine when an elderly lady pushing a cart with shopping bags tried to come out the door. Her hands were full with a few other shopping bags causing her to have trouble getting the door opened. I opened the door for her and she thanked me. My friend looked at her and said “it looks like you’ve done a lot of shopping.” She responded, “oh no, I sleep on the street and these are my blankets.” Those words shocked me but the way she said it shocked me even more….she had a smile on her face! Well when I heard that, I almost had a “come apart.” Before I knew what I was doing, I pulled out my wallet and gave her $20. You would have thought that I had just given her a million dollars! Her eyes opened wide and she said “oh I can’t believe it….that’s such a huge amount…..I have to give you a hug.” So she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and thanked me over and over again. By this time the rest of our group joined us and we had to leave. As we walked away, the lady said “God bless you”. And all I could think was that He just did! Her appreciation and gratitude floored me. That kiss on my cheek and the look on her face was one of the best Christmas gifts I could have received!
When we left her I couldn’t help but wonder what her story was. How did she end up living on the streets? Where was her family? I mean she had to be somebody’s Mom and Grandma….why wasn’t somebody taking care of her? These are all perfectly logical questions but the answers didn’t matter. What matters is that she needed help and I was glad to be able to help her although I didn’t do much at all.
So this Christmas season do a little something for somebody else – they don’t even have to be homeless and you don’t necessarily have to give money. Pickup the tab for a stranger at a restaurant, spend some time with somebody that looks like they need a friend, buy groceries or even a cup of coffee for somebody. It doesn’t matter how big or small, just do something for somebody. Believe me….when you do what you receive in return will be greater than what you gave!