A Person of No Importance

homeless subway

photo by Gill E

This morning on the “S” train which crosses from Times Square to Grand Central Station, a woman came on with an overflowing stroller containing what I assumed were all her worldly possessions, including bags of clothing and books. Her café au lait skin had sparse wrinkles, and silver braids were neatly pinned to the top of her head. She sat down, her stroller in front of her.

An agitated blond woman in a sleeveless turquoise dress addressed a male passenger, “Can you move in?”

There was a good bit of space in the middle of the car, which she felt was not being properly utilized. The man smirked at her, but said nothing and didn’t budge.

She said, “Come on, there’s room,” and she and another man pushed past him, the silver-haired lady’s stroller and climbed over my feet and that of other passengers who scrunched themselves into tight human balls.

“See?” she said. The smirking man made another face, saying nothing. Then he made fleeting eye contact with the silver-haired lady, which she may have taken as a slight.

“They’ve got the stuff they need for their jobs. I’ve got the stuff I need for my job,” she said to him, firmly, but without malice.

The smirking man said nothing.

We arrived at Grand Central Station; no one said a word.

The silver-haired lady is one of the “people of no importance,” the homeless or less fortunate people you see every day. She’s a person who probably doesn’t make you stop and wonder, who is she, how did she get to where she is today.

Yesterday afternoon, Lorin and I were watching the 1994 film, A Man of No Importance with Albert Finney. He plays a closeted homosexual bus conductor in 1906s Dublin. His true passion is theatre and he puts on amateur performances of Oscar Wilde plays at the local church hall. He recites poetry in enraptured tones to his passengers and has a secret crush on the bus driver played by a young Rufus Sewell.

Like so many (including myself), he is an “average” man of no particular importance to society or the world. But who decides what or who is of value, of importance? Do money. property and station in life truly make the man / woman? If you touch or change one person’s life or a few or a dozen in a meaningful way, are you not valuable? I think so. Who’s to say that the silver-haired lady hasn’t touched someone’s life in a profound way. I guess we’ll never know.

Dirty Pretty Money


photo by E. Herd

In Grand Central Station:

I gave a buck to the accordionist who plays “La Vie en Rose,” “Lara’s Theme” and gypsy tunes.

I gave a buck to the violinist with a sign on his wheelie cart that says “Need money to get my wife a liver.”

I gave a buck to the harpist who looks Eastern European and has a warm smile. He plays “Cielito Lindo” and some tunes I don’t know.


I gave several bucks to the Marine Vet on the street who used to be bundled up and stationed on the grates at the northwest corner of 42nd and Lex. We talked for a while. He said he was shot up in Afghanistan, lost his home and his family, got slashed and robbed at a homeless shelter and wouldn’t go back. I saw him for weeks during the winter, then was afraid to make eye contact. He looked worse and worse each time I saw him. He didn’t look up anymore. I felt like a bad person for avoiding him, not being able to help. Since I really can’t help, why talk to him, I reasoned to myself. I felt powerless to help, ashamed even. I don’t see him anymore. I wonder where he’s gone.

Giving away a couple bucks here and there won’t change anything.

I think I can do more.

I have to figure out how in our new Gilded Age.

Preachers on Parade


42nd Street Subway station preacher posters (a bit out of focus because I was afraid the screaming preacher was going to rip my iPhone out of my hand. He and another one were screaming “Abortion is murder!”)

Every day on the ramp from the #7 subway to Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street is a kind of mini-carnival of preachers, but last night was a full-fledged parade! They were coming out of the woodwork, I mean, tiles. Everywhere, all ethnicities and ages and temperaments. They almost outnumbered the commuters. Was it annual Preachers Day, and nobody told us?

Among the preachers were:

(1)    An unintelligible Korean woman holding a placard and shrieking Bible quotes or condemnations at the passersby.

(2)    A Latino man who approached a girl no older than 5 walking hand-in-hand with her mother. He got in her face and said in an admonishing tone, “It’s never too late.” Are you kidding? What sins has she committed? It reminded me of going to confession as a young girl and running out of things to confess. One of my “sins” was interrupting my dad when he was on the phone in his study. If I were that mother, I would have told the guy to leave my kid alone, or perhaps used stronger language.

(3)     A white stringy-haired guy standing against the wall, mumbling sotto voce. Too shy to be a preacher, I think.

(4)     A young African-American man wearing a brown hoodie with block yellow lettering on the back, “TRUST AND BELIEVE IN JESUS.” He hovered near the pamphlet / chachka table and said nothing. I wonder what his sales are like.

Tons of plaques and posters painted with scripture verses in primary colors, and one of Jesus, head bloodied by thorns, with an ocher backdrop, lined the walls. A painting depicted what looked like a man being lured by a prostitute (oversized woman, smaller man – you get the point) sitting in a come-hither pose.  I wasn’t able to make out what it said, will have to check back again tonight.

In the morning, there’s the African-American preacher in Frye boots and cowboy hat and bolo tie, who says, “Do not reject Jesus. Jesus will not reject you.” Listen here: 

The energy of these preachers on parade is palpable. If only it could be harnessed and used for the greater good, to solve world problems, or help the poor, homeless and mentally ill and other disenfranchised people. If only they were DOING and HELPING, instead of preaching and accosting the innocent. I guess I could say the same about myself; only difference is, I’m not a preacher, but still, no excuse.

(audio – E. Herd)

Pope Francis, My Hero

pope francis

(source: newsfirst.lk)

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
            Mrs. Cecil Frances Humphrey Alexander

Pope Francis never ceases to amaze me, and in a good way. He is the most all-embracing, open-hearted pope in my recollection. He has been a steadfast advocate for open-mindedness towards people and causes often scorned in our society—the LGBT community, the poor, migrants, abortion rights. He has called the Catholic Church “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Today he has called for a “global mobilization” to end human trafficking.

Last week he joined leaders of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian faiths, promising to use their religions towards eradicating “modern slavery” and human trafficking by 2020.

When Pope Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known to sneak out at night and break bread with the poor; he would sit on the street and eat with them, let them know they were cared for. The Pope’s trusted archbishop Konrad Krajewski is the Vatican Almoner, who has the a centuries-old job of handing out alms.  Krajewksi said,

“The Holy Father told me at the beginning: ‘You can sell your desk. You don’t need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.’ ”

It’s been said that Francis sometimes disguises himself as a priest and sneaks out to serve the homeless with Krajewski.

Every morning a Vatican official goes from the Vatican hotel where Francis lives to Krajewski’s office with a pile of letters the Pope has received from parishioners asking for assistance. On the top of each letter, Francis may write “You know what to do” or “Go find them” or “Go talk to them.”

In his weekly address last month, the Pope declared, “All animals go to heaven.”

Whether you believe in a heaven or not, it’s a wonderful sentiment. Why shouldn’t one’s furry loved ones follow them into the afterlife?

He said, “Heaven is open to all creatures, and there [they] will be vested with the joy and love of God, without limits.”

Francis goes further to say that humankind’s role is not limited to serving the divine:

“The vocation of being a ‘protector,’ however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as St. Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pope Francis ran for Congress? Maybe he could get some real work done. Sorry, had to add my two cents.

He is a reminder of what we all can be, religious or not, and of the good that can be found in all of us.