“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” ~ Galileo Galilei
The winter has worn on and on, devastating the rhythm and well-being of the Northeast and it has become apparent that we have all simply had enough. Lucky us! We’ve been limited to the monotony of home and hearth or the inconveniences of all that snow and slush interfering with our daily commutes! We have spent the last six weeks whining and bitching and moaning to all those who can hear us, our circle of ears growing larger and larger with each single-digit night that passes into well-below freezing days. Pipes freeze and tempers flare. The Sunday Times travel section gets scanned for “deals” on all those faraway places that boast fruity tropical drinks shaded by cute paper umbrellas; these orange sunset places where sand easily replaces snow, our summery memories recalling the images of the waxing and waning surf upon the beach’s edge. Ah, but when reality wakes us, all we see are the piles of winter’s remains sitting mountainous along the sides of roads. Trying to negotiate a solid footing has become an Olympic sport and all of us wonder if the ice and snow will ever,ever go away.
And yet, of course there really are so many who simply don’t have the luxury of bemoaning the inconvenience of winter. Theirs has become a study of tolerance and quick-wittedness, fortitude and determination. They are those faceless folks who don’t have a home to go to. They are those whose homes are whatever shelter they can find to keep them from the deep, deep cold of never really knowing what warmth is, until, of course, the unrelenting heat of summer beats down upon them. They don’t have the luxury of bemoaning anything.
Last night, we gathered once again to make our monthly trip into the city on behalf of the Midnight Run. We had a wonderful group of eighteen teenagers, several who were new to the Run and some whose jobs next year will be to lead the group. We had nine adults, plenty of sandwiches, Rob’s infamous chili, a birthday cake to celebrate birthdays past and present, new sweatpants, new hoodies and plenty of underwear and socks to distribute to the homeless and hungry poor who will greet us without one single complaint whispered from their lips. And in a caravan of cars, we made our way into the night, to our first stop on the Upper West Side. The church whose steps are usually alive with the voices of the hungry poor and homeless, were scaffolded and empty, a maze of orange and white construction cones and fencing. It was empty, save one sleeping soul blanketed and jellyrolled up tightly in an old sleeping bag, in the only remaining clear doorway. The rest of the block was deserted. We left sandwiches for the sleeping person and very quietly retreated, wondering if this was going to be the norm for the evening. We were already halfway through our allotted stops though our over-flowing cars and van still oozed an excess of supplies.
Our next stop was empty at first, unlike what we are accustomed to in the warmer, slower months of Spring and Summer. Two people spotted our van and as soon as they approached, our very willing group of volunteers happened upon them, offering a plethora of food and goods with arms outstretched, as they climbed over the icy banks of snow. Smiles abounded. The night had started, but our strategy needed an overhaul. Where were the people whose needs could be addressed by our generous offering? I always think of Timothy at this stop and miss him here, as he continues his convalescence in a nursing home. The truth of winter lies in its inherent danger. Timothy lost all ten toes to the wrath of last year’s cold and snow. It was something to remember. It was the equilibrium that we needed. How self-righteous we can become sometimes, thinking our efforts may actually be minimized by the sheer force of a cold winter’s night, raining on our parade of generosity. Hmmm.
Our decision to do the third stop before hitting a much larger stop where dozens of people would invariably be, proved to be the smartest decision of the evening. We managed to negotiate the traffic and sidle into the one strip of curbside that would allow all of our caravan to fit snugly in one spot. The people were waiting for us, staying warm inside a bank. As soon as we stopped, people appeared, coming out from all sorts of sheltered spots in this busy midtown location and the first person I saw that I recognized was my old friend, Buddy. I’m not at all certain what it is about Buddy that I genuinely love, but I’m sure it has something to do with his affable nature. He bears a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields, but with a warm smile perpetually across his face. He saw me and with the aid of a cane, walked up to me and gave me a long hug. It was heaven. People began to gather, going from one vehicle to the next, a veritable smorgasbord of offerings in each car. In the van was a well-organized group of girls who handed out the clothing we brought, checking sizes and colors and trying to accommodate the needs of all who waited on line. In the rear of the van, chili and coffee and birthday cake was ready for all who came by. Kids walked around through the crowd, armed with bags of lunches, giving away three or four meals to each person who asked for one. There was an easiness about this stop and all were happy.
And then Buddy began to sing. I adore him and as I stood next to him, he asked me what I wanted to hear. Buddy could sing every aria that Verdi ever wrote. He could sing any love song known to mankind. He could sing all songs patriotic and as the kids gathered around him, that’s what Buddy did, after asking that all who were gathered sing with him. He then turned to me and asked what I wanted to hear, though Buddy knows what I will say. My request was simple: I always ask him to sing “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto, and he did. Imagine this: Verdi sung by Buddy on a busy Manhattan street at midnight. It doesn’t get better than that. Ever.
This stop was a reunion of sorts. I was about to turn around when a man in layered blankets, sandals and long hair blowing into his blue eyes, gave me a surprise hug. He said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And of course I did. Hugh is a legend on the street, much like Buddy, and he is something of a prophet who, in warmer weather, was often seen on roller skates, gliding through the crowds on busy New York City streets, spreading the “good news.” Hugh. A sweet man who has aged as we all have over these past 27 years, and whose teachings have softened and mellowed. It was so good to see him once again. He was wonderful with the kids and thanked each of them for their smiles. How often does THAT happen, I wondered?
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Daylight Savings Time loomed ahead of us and home we went, the crowd dispersing back into the crevices of the night. It was hard falling asleep, but not for the reasons I usually have after a run. It was difficult because there was palpable joy in the night air, displacing the overstay of winter. I simply wanted it to go on a little longer.