I crossed the yellow-cab dotted avenue, the sound of trash truck engines and creaks filling the midday air. Walking along this fast-paced New York City sidewalk, my mind wandered to the cloud of vapor I was breathing into the frosty ten degree air, until I became distracted by a young man limping drunkenly across the intersection. ‘Stay away from him,’ I thought, and the language of the strangers around me seemed to say the same thing.
Ready to avoid him, I watched as an older African-American woman, cozy in her tennis shoes and long, beige wool jacket, pointed to the drunken man’s shoelaces. “Tie your shoe laces, honey,” she said gently.
Her kindness let down my guard. Their brief interaction slowed them down so that I was now next to the drunken man. I examined his clothes, looking for something to judge him by. His white sneakers worn under camo-print sweatpants were both untied. We walked side-by-side, and as we exchanged smiles, I saw a two inch scar embedded in his buzzed scalp. He had a brain injury.
“You should take my flyer! You should take my flyer!” he said, and I realized he was employed as a flyer distributor. He then shouted something that was incoherent to me, and uncertain of what to say, I smiled politely. “Take care,” I said, bidding him warmly. “Take care!” he shouted, with a smile on his face, and we both went about our days.
I thought about the woman pointing to the mans shoes: it felt as if time froze around her act of kindness, and activated a desire for warmth in me, when moments before, I had been preparing to be cold. Her humanity had allowed me to keep myself from robbing the humanity of another.