He was an older gentleman with nicely trimmed white hair and a beard, and he sat comfortably on a milk crate backed against the outer wall of a building along 8th Avenue near Columbus Circle in Manhattan.
He had a cigarette in his mouth, a paperback book in his left hand, and a plastic cup partially filled with change in his left hand. As he read his book, he shook the cup in hopes that someone passing by might take notice and contribute to his cause.
I stood about 30 feet away as I waited for a friend to emerge from the subway station. People passed by in typical New York fashion, each en route somewhere and ignoring the world along the way.
Then a young man emerged from the subway station, tapped my shoulder and asked if I had a quarter. “I only need one quarter,” he added. I told him the truth: “I don’t have a quarter.” And he was moving on before the final word left my lips.
He walked to the next person he saw, a young woman who was lighting a cigarette, and he asked her for a smoke. She handed him the carton in her hand, which had one cigarette remaining. He took it, she lit it for him, and he moved quickly on his way without a word. As he left, he tossed the empty carton against the wall just a few feet from the man on the crate.
The man looked up from his book, glanced at the carton, and then walked over and picked it up.
“There’s a trash can right there,” he said as he walked by me, “and that guy just throws it on the sidewalk.”
I can’t explain exactly why his actions moved me the way they did, but I handed him a dollar bill as he walked back.
“God bless you,” I said, and I meant it.
“Thank you,” he said, and he seemed to mean it, too.
Then he walked to the crate, sat back down, and began reading his book.
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