I couldn’t find a book for my friend’s kid. I scoured the children’s section of the bookstore and left empty-handed. I’d seen the guy when I went in, bundled beside the bookstore entrance with his cardboard sign, and I knew I’d give him some cash when I came out. All I had in my pocket was a $5 and a $10 so I walked over, greeted him and held out the 5.

Alistair talked my ear off for ten minutes. He was very happy to receive the money but he was even happier for some conversation. He sits there looking at the sidewalk, but as soon as I spoke he lifted his bright eyes to mine and held out his hand, and introduced himself. Alistair’s got plenty of stories, from Scotland to London to “San Fran” to Bean Town. He told me how meditation saved him last winter, on the streets during the polar vortex.

It’s three blocks from the bookstore to a cafe I like. I’d decided to treat myself to a cappuccino. A few doors short of the cafe I passed a younger fellow curled over himself on the sidewalk, his back to a storefront. The cardboard sign on his lap read Hungry. Tired. Need Help. 

I bought my coffee at the cafe with the $10 cash I had left and stuffed the $5 bill I got back in my pocket, and the rest of my change into the tips jar. The barista undercharged me on purpose so I put the difference in with the tip.

When I walked back out and squatted beside him, he was startled. People step around him like he’s a hydrant, a trash can. I wanted to bring you some food but I don’t know what you like so I thought maybe this was better. I handed him the $5. His eyes widened. He said Awesome! and gathered up his things.

Walking away I started crying. I don’t remember seeing such raw pain in anybody’s eyes. Unlike Alistair, he didn’t want to tell me where he’d been, and he didn’t want to share his philosophies, he was just really hungry. I hope he’ll find easier times ahead, somehow.

I don’t want to live numb. I’d rather walk the streets crying and broke. I have a warm house to come home to and people who love me, to catch me when I fall.

I need to say two other things. Two people I know attempted suicide in a single week. Both are trans-identified. Transgender youth have one of the highest suicide rates. That same week, another trans young woman hit the national news when she walked onto an Ohio highway and stepped in front of a car, after leaving a heartbreaking last message on social media.

We need to get it, finally, that we are all the same. All the barriers that separate us, in the end, are false. It’s not that hard to simply accept people as they are.

And this: we stand in solidarity with the journalists assassinated this morning in Pairs. Je Suis Charlie. Without free speech we have nothing.

wishing you warm digs and the company of loved ones,
thanks to Justin, from Lincoln Park NJ, for the photo