Sunday, July 11, 2010

Levite on the N Train

Saturday afternoon, I rode the N train from Manhattan to Coney Island in Brooklyn. I was en route to the fabled Big Apple landmark to take in a game of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a single-A baseball team affiliated with the Mets, as part of a friend’s 35th birthday celebration.

For nearly the entire train ride, I sat opposite a sleeping man who I perceived to be homeless. Hugging a large piece of yellow mattress foam, the man rested his head on a fairly large cushion he had wedged between the metal bars of the seat. A sheet covered his upper body. He had a bandanna around his bald head. A large man, he could have been 30 or 50.

Two massive garbage bags sat at the man’s feet. Two slightly smaller plastic bags and jugs of water were under the seat. He also had a cart that was full with assorted bags and belongings.

There was a bit of an odor at that end of the car but it was not overpowering.

As I sat there, I read the weekend Wall Street Journal (including Peggy Noonan’s column). But, it was hard not to stare at the man.

I prayed for him – Hail Marys, my go-to prayer when I don’t know what to do or say.

But, I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t wake him up and ask him if he OK. I didn’t ask him if he was hungry. I didn’t find out if he had a place to sleep Saturday night – or any night. I did nothing to address the immediate physical needs of a human being right in front of me.

When the train arrived at Coney Island, the man continued to snooze. I got off the train and went on my way.

For all I know, he might still be riding that N train between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Sunday evening, I went to the 7 p.m. Mass at Old St. Pat's. The Gospel reading, from Luke Chapter 10, included the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (I posted the passage in 2007.)

Thanks to my train ride the day before, it wasn't hard to see myself in parable. I'm the Levite – the religious man who walked right on by.

I pray for the courage of the Samaritan. I pray for the courage to reach out when faced with suffering.

Visit A Concord Pastor, Deacon Greg, City Father and Fr. Tito for homilies on the passage.

The image of the Good Samaritan above is by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863).


breadgirl said...

Hi Paul
This is a great post. I think it will touch a nerve with most of us. It is a good reminder to us all. Thanks for sharing and God bless you.

Faith said...

Don't beat yourself up over it. You did the best you could have done. You prayed for the man. I "kinda/sorta" have adopted a "poor soul." His psychological issues keep him a street person. For example, he went to a rectory for help. No one was there but for a teenager. My friend asked for food and the teenager didn't know what to do. My friend asked for St. Vincent de Paul, and I don't know exactly what happened from there, but I was told that he scared the teenager. He was yelling at him. Anyway, the result is that he was asked to never come to the rectory again.
If you gave him anything, he'd save it. He won't wear new clothes; they might be taken away from him. He won't let you buy him a meal; he says he's allergic to too much. The only thing he wants is money and I'm sure he hoards that.
Although he looks homeless, he lives in a shelter, gets social security, goes to a food bank, has a social worker. As far as I can see, his needs are met.
What I'm trying to tell you is not to feel too badly about not helping this man. You can't force people to go to the agencies that help them.