She went into the glistening lobby of the building and emerged with her daughter, a bland young woman with a Chanel bag slung over her shoulder and an iPhone glowing in her fist. The daughter said, “Hey James” to the driver, like they’d known each other forever. He said “hey” back and “how’s life in the big city?” She shrugged and climbed through the door he held open for her.
As they pulled away, I was filled with rage. All the way to Avenue A, to Tompkins Square Park, I muttered angrily to myself—about having and not having, and what has happened to my neighborhood? Then I heard the voice of a preacher on a microphone.
|Photo: Bob Arihood|
Inside the park, a large group of people had gathered on benches to listen. They were visibly poor, homeless, many holding on to carts loaded with a few ragged belongings. The preacher was a woman with frizzed hair and purple eyeshadow, dressed in jeans and a denim jacket. Her accent was old New York, tough and forceful. She was talking about rage.
“That rage inside you,” she said, as if directly to me, “Those murderous thoughts, that hunger for vengeance, it’s only hurting you. It’s giving them power. Why do you want to give them power?”
“God,” she said, “has sent guardian angels to watch over us. He wants us to be healthy and to heal. He wants us to evolve as people.”
I am not religious. I bristle at the mention of God, but I felt calm, lightened by the preacher’s words. My anger lifted away. After the sermon, the homeless people lined up for a beef stew dinner served from the side of a van with the words “Hope for the Future” printed on it. One of the men getting into line asked me gently, “Papi, you going to eat?” I am not poor. I have plenty to eat. But I felt so grateful to him for inviting me, and to the preacher for saying what I needed to hear. I wanted to tell them this, but they were busy with feeding and being fed, and I didn’t want to intrude.
In this city of people who never open their eyes, it’s a rare gift to be seen.