by Kathryn Jean Lopez
The first time I ventured out in Manhattan after the Coronavirus shutdown was in mid-May. I saw men glaring at me—glaring and grunting. They were dazed and confused and angry. I was in New York’s Penn Station and you didn’t even have to hit the sidewalk to be hollered at. It was dark inside and everyone, except a few homeless men, was walking around with facemasks. The first man who stopped me seemed furious when he asked for money and I offered him a fresh sandwich instead. I typically have money ready for such requests, but I didn’t know what was in my purse besides books since this was my first real venture out since sometime in early Lent. The man seemed to grunt in his anger, swaying his arms as if in an argument with a demon. I don’t know if I mean that quite literally, but my heart ached for him. And I honestly didn’t know what to do other than try to smile and pray for him.
Then I realized he couldn’t even see the smile because of the face mask. I didn’t feed him or give him what he asked for, but I did pray for him and I am again. Is that sometimes all you can do? And maybe remind one another we can try again.
We must love, even in these intimidating situations.
I’ll confess in that situation in New York City—and during a second incident in Washington, D.C.—I was uneasy. Back in the old “normal” days, I was not that way because there were typically more people around. The first man who came up to me in Union Station seemed severely drugged. I noticed that outside the station pigeons were working on a pizza. Who would cast aside a pizza any day, but especially these days? A taxi driver explained to me that a man had walked by with a pizza and when he was asked for money, offered the pizza instead. The recipient took the pizza, and once the man was out of view, threw it on the ground without taking a bite.
So really, what do you do in these situations? You love however best you can.
Once the quarantine began, I couldn’t—for a long time—get Patrick, Will, and Tabby off my mind. I’ve met Tabby’s husband, too. I think his name is Todd. They are all regulars on my walk from Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the National Review. (At least they were, when we could go to Mass, in the pre-Coronavirus-shutdown days.)
The last time I talked with Patrick was right before social distancing became a thing. He gave me a hug after our conversation. What would people do if they saw such a sight these days? Previously anything goes in New York City. Patrick told me he felt called to sit by St. Patrick’s for obvious reasons. He told me food wasn’t really a problem most days; a safe place to sleep and a shower were the real issues. He told me he might have a fighting chance with those things. We talked about Catholic Charities and the Missionaries of Charity. Patrick knew exactly what I was talking about and where to find them. He even said he had heard good things about the organizations. But something was holding him back. I prayed that whatever it was might be lifted.
Will always seems to have a book with him, surrounded by pigeons. I like to pray that St. Francis intercedes asking for whatever miracle of God Will needs. Tabby always accepts whatever paltry offering I have. Even when it is a squashed, raspberry, gluten-free fig bar, she tells me “they are the best kind” or “you know I love those.”
I have no idea where any of those people are today. At first, I wondered who was helping them? Who was talking with them? Who was loving them? Have they avoided Coronavirus? Jesus knows; Jesus loves; and Jesus seeks and protects. Maybe not from Coronavirus.
I try to post on social media when I meet new people and I especially ask for prayers. I sometimes explain to the person I encounter on the street that I am doing that and frequently that person is moved. There are men who curse you for your imperfect offering and for your awkward love, but there are others who thank you and bless you and show you Christ.
I see Christ on the streets, even in the men who look so distraught and drugged out. There is an innocent child in there who was wronged and overwhelmed by the world, who was poisoned by the evil that men do. Sometimes it’s a joy in the midst of his circumstances. Sometimes I find myself crying with Dorothy Day, as she often did for the misery she couldn’t cure. She did so much more than I do, but I sometimes ask her to intercede so that the eyes of Christ’s heart might show me his healing hand, even just for a moment.
A KIND bar isn’t going to change a life, but I’m also not the Savior. See your brother and encounter him with love. Bring his aching heart to the Sacred Heart. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Sometimes that’s all we’re called to do.
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Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review. She is author of A Year with the Mystics. https://twitter.com/kathrynlopez