The story was posted on Facebook by straphanger Joshua Lagan, who saw Officer Frank Rendina and his partner approach the elderly man last week and didn’t expect to see what he did.
When I saw two cops surround a homeless man in grand central today, I thought I knew exactly what would happen. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was waiting for my train in Grand Central this morning when I saw this homeless man open the trash can, and then start to sort through it. As New Yorkers are conditioned to do, we turned our backs and let him continue picking through the trash looking for cans to redeem. This is incredibly common in NYC, so common in fact that it’s something we’ve sadly become completely desensitized too. On any other day this would just be ignored, as white noise in the din of a city contrasted by opulence and extreme poverty.
On this day though, two cops saw him and ran over. As New Yorkers know, running is undignified unless for athletics, we merely walk at a running pace. Therefore, running always draws attention. People turned to see what was going on as the cops reached the man and started to explain to him that it’s illegal to open the trash cans and so he needed to stop.
The homeless man protested, but the attention caused by the cops running over had already started to wane and his protests faded into the background as people put their headphones back and returned to waiting for the trains, confident that the cops would take care of the situation. Something kept me, and I lingering a moment longer. It was at that moment the cop said something that startled me, and startled the homeless man as well.
“What are you collecting cans for?” the cop asked. I was surprised as this question is always given the same response, “Food”, regardless of the actual need. The homeless man was also taken aback, I don’t suspect he was often asked the purpose of his digging through the trash. He paused for a moment, then looking the cop in the eye, responded “Socks. I want socks.”
Glancing down it was apparent that his dusty feet in his ripped shoes did in fact need socks, and noting that winter is coming, socks would definitely be needed.
Without hesitation, the Cop put his arm on his shoulder and smiling said “I’ll buy you socks. It’s Christmas soon right? I’ll buy you socks for Christmas. Merry Christmas” he said smiling broadly. “Let’s go to the store.” The homeless man was so shocked he just kept stammering, “are you serious?” “Are you serious?”
I looked around the subway station, their backs were toward the cops and homeless man. They had missed it. They had missed the moment of humanity, the exchange of man in a good situation reaching down to help someone in a bad situation. They were waiting for the train, and that was what mattered.
I don’t say this to judge, because on most days that is me. I don’t share this to make a statement about homeless people, or cops, or politics. I share this because of love. I saw someone treat someone with love today, and it reminded me of the love that we need to show for us to overcome all of the hate we’re seeing in the news these days.
It was a small gesture, but I saw a man regardless of color or uniform show compassion for another person. How often do we miss opportunities to do that?
We just had Thanksgiving, a season for being thankful for what we have, and now winter is coming, and so is Christmas, the season for giving. Don’t do it because of the season, but use this season as a reminder of the type of love that we can show every day. To you and me it might just be socks. But to someone else it might be the love they need this Holiday season.