My Favorite Homeless Guy & Practicing Gratitude
There used to be a man who sat on the corner of 73rd street and Broadway playing his guitar. One of his greatest hits was “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles. The man had a nice voice and I always enjoyed hearing snippets of whatever song he was crooning when I would pass by him on my way to class. I started lovingly referring to him as "my favorite homeless guy." He always had a genuine smile on his face. Sure, he had a collection box out in front of him in hopes of making some money, but I always got the feeling that he was smiling because he was doing what he loved: making music.
I was raised by two New Yorkers. My Dad grew up in Queens and my Mom grew up in Brooklyn. They taught me how to walk the streets of the city with my guard up. We used to come into the city as a family all the time when I was young. I was taught to mind my own business when homeless people came begging for two reasons. First, you can’t possibly give to everyone you see. As sad as it is, there’s just too many homeless people in this city. Second, and this was probably the more important reason for two parents of a young girl, you never know what kind of crazy is going on inside someone’s head. My parents made it quite clear that sometimes it’s just safer to keep to yourself and not make eye contact. All that being said, I’ve always felt pretty desensitized to the homeless population in this city. I know that sounds absolutely horrible, but I see the way some of my small town friends are heartbroken the first time they encounter a homeless person when moving to the big city, and I’ve just never had that experience. And so, most of the time when I see someone sitting on the street, I walk right by.
But this guy caught my attention. I always noticed him, and even looked forward to seeing him.
One Sunday afternoon I had just gotten out of a tap class taught by one of my favorite teachers (Haaaay, Andrew Black!) and it was blizzard-ing. If I’m remembering my own story correctly, which rarely happens, to be honest… it’s like most of my memory box inside my brain is busy remembering choreography and so when I try to remember stories or events that have happened, they all get confused and jumbled together and then I end up telling a Picasso-ized version of a story with details from four totally different occasions… but anyway… I think this was the winter of 2016. And we had some serious snow storms that year. So I’m walking to the subway after class and I’m as happy as a clam because I just so happen to love the snow. Everyone else around me is sick of it. They’re complaining, they’re cold, they’re wet, and they just can’t wait for spring.
I cross the street to find my favorite homeless guy sitting on his usual corner, 73rd and Broadway, with guitar in hand singing none other than his classic cover of “Here Comes the Sun.” The smile on his face was even warmer and more genuine than ever. It stopped me dead in my snowy tracks. Here’s this man, who doesn’t have proper winter clothes sitting outside in a snow storm singing about sunshine in the most loving way while dozens of Upper West Siders trudge past in designer coats and heavy snow boots complaining about the cold, most likely on their way to someplace warm and dry. I gave the man a smile and a dollar and then continued on my way to the one train, tears in my eyes, completely moved by his generosity of spirit.
I think about this man a lot, especially when I get tied up thinking about what I don’t have rather than focusing on having gratitude for what I do have. It’s a daily practice, this gratitude thing, but it has the power to make all the difference in the world.
Looking back on it, I wish I’d given him more money. I wish I’d asked if I could buy him a cup of soup or hot tea. I should have at least gotten his name and thanked him for the music.