New York City. I first moved here in the summer of 2011 with my sister and a U-haul full of too much stuff. Just as in the movies, I remember that first glimpse of the iconic skyline, driving through the Lincoln Tunnel with a fireball of hope in the pit of my stomach, and the sound of all of the car horns honking specifically at us because we hadn’t yet attained the grittiness to really drive in Manhattan.
I moved hear to study and audition and do all that I can to become the best possible Opera Singer I can be. For those of us in the business, it is understood that, for the majority, that doesn’t mean back to back engagements. Building an operatic career often entails doing odd jobs in between important contracts.
It has been extremely difficult but I have always managed to make it with my odd jobs and help from family. In between singing, I have been a barista, a hedge fund secretary, a special events assistant, a temp, and a nanny. I am thankful for all of these experiences because I have met wonderful people, acquired countless skills, and truly learned the value of hard work. Also… aside from passion alone , nothing makes you work harder toward your career than being yelled at by an upper east side, plastic surgery fortified, trophy wife, because she is CERTAIN the foam in her child’s espresso macchiato is not nonfat.
Unfortunately, this city does harden people. You have to make an effort to fight it. I was able to see that very clearly as I observed the behaviors of customer after customer. Very few greetings were reciprocated, smiles were rare, and complaining was rampant. There was nary a day I wouldn’t see eyes rolled and experience snarky comments because people were in such a hurry to get there cappuccino and toasted croissant.
I’d like to share an anecdote from the aforementioned barista job. It was my first job in Manhattan. I felt very cosmopolitan as, not only was I was working in New York City, but I could walk to work, and have all of the coffee I wanted. If you know me, you know this is a big deal. The backgrounds of my coworkers were diverse. They were mothers, fathers, actors, actresses, students, musicians, dancers, and poets. It was a wonderful group and there was a great sense of camaraderie as we dealt out these tasty cups of legal stimulants to all kinds of New Yorkers.
During my tenure as a barista, there is one day that sticks out in my mind from the rest. There was always a young homeless man who sat nearby our entrance. He had an air of kindness. He looked at you. He smiled. Usually he would be given people’s unfinished coffees, leftovers, and change. On this day, he decided to come into the shop. We all knew him and it was an unspoken understanding that we were prepared to give him a coffee and snack on the house- but he waited in line. A particularly abrasive woman was the customer in front of him. I remember her pretty distinctly because she was wearing blue scrubs and was even taller than I am! She was very, very upset because of how my coworker did not close her bag of freshly ground coffee adequately. Apparently, she didn’t squeeze enough of the air out, and this was cause for eye rolling, and condescending tone. I gave her the change from her purchase and told her to have a wonderful day as she stormed off. Then the homeless man stepped up, gave a hello, a smile, eye contact, and ordered a small coffee. Seeing that he had money in hand, I told him the price and and waited as he counted his coins. We exchanged money for coffee with a warm smile and as he walked off…he casually put the rest of his change in the tip jar.
When did so many of us stop caring about our fellow humans? This man was obviously down on his luck but did not let it affect his apparent commitment to respect his fellow man. Poor and destitute is a phrase I hear often. Destitute defines the state of being without the basic necessities of life. True, you do need food and shelter, but you also need love and compassion. He may have been poor, but he certainly was not destitute. I feel that in today’s society this phrase could be changed to “rich and destitute” or “middle class and destitute.” I have seen more people who have a roof over their heads, and food to eat- but their souls are starving. This man’s spirit was intact and flourishing. And I hope and pray he is well today. So many of us allow our first-world-problems to grow so great that we lose sight of what life is about. It is the opportunity to share our experience with people, not with things, to create beauty with our actions, not to be bitter in a self inflicted solitude. It is a brief window in time to appreciate others…not to treat a bag of coffee grounds with greater respect than a person.
This brings me to today. Five years later, I remember this exchange like it was yesterday. I remember it every time I see a homeless person on the street. There are so many people in this “City that never sleeps,” who have only scraps for a meal and the old cardboard box from your new flat screen as a bed. If you have lived in a big city, you probably have walked past one of these people without even looking, without giving them the dollar in your pocket because you have to get home after a long day. You don’t look, and then you feel guilty.
It is uncomfortable to confront your privilege. But you must. Make an effort to remind these homeless people that the only thing that makes us different is luck, and circumstance. Smile. Say hello. Lift them up. Just as you would interact with the cute, little old lady in the grocery store who can’t reach the top shelf, or the man in a business suit who held open a door for you. People are people… and love makes a difference. Don’t be selective with your kindness.
For most of us, it isn’t financially realistic to help every person we pass. So what can we do? Last week, on the N train, I came across a truly amazing group of people that are answering this exact question in a kind and very direct way. The group is called: Free Food For The Homeless.
It is simple. You donate money to this group and they buy and distribute food and drink directly to the homeless of New York City.
Of course it is wonderful to donate to organizations who help the homeless on a larger scale. But sometimes help on a smaller scale is equally as important. Food and a smile to those who are hungry and ignored can go a long way. It may not be a home and a job, but it is a start – a wonderful start.
So, it must be said that a hearty #StandingOvation is in order for the group Free Food for the Homeless!
Please like, donate, and share this wonderful cause on Facebook and Instagram:
Until next time…love, be kind, and lend a helping hand.
Liebe und Küsse, darlings
p.s. If you have a free hour, please use your time to watch this amazing documentary about the polarized economy and poverty in America.