Last night on the R train, Brandon stepped in to my car. Brandon looked to be mid 20’s with torn cargo pants and long blonde hair sweeping over half of his face. He began making a passionate plea, hovering over a thin line between anger and sad resignation. He explained that it was his 27th birthday and he had been on the streets for the last 10 years. He ran away when he was 17 and now he was tired of living like this. He wanted to start over. He said his friend in Montana offered to help him get back on his feet but that he needed to get a bus ticket there. Brandon showed a small wad of money and said that he was just $40 away from being able to get that ticket. It was convincing and heart wrenching, and the man next to me pulled out his wallet to hand Brandon a $20 bill.
Now I don’t know if you read my recent post about a Hero in Harlem (http://themisshappenstances.blogspot.com/…/sometimes-people…), but as Brandon approached my section of the car, I took that hero’s lead and knew what I had to do. With knees shaking I raised my sunglasses to my head and looked Brandon squarely in the eyes.
“Brandon, do you remember me?” I asked.
He lowered his gaze and mumbled a slow “yeah”.
“I tried to take you to Penn station to buy you a bus ticket a few months ago, also on your 27th birthday.” I stated. “But you said you needed to leave the following day, so I waited there the next day, at the time you asked me to. But you never came.”
“Because I don’t want a ticket!” he said defensively. “You are not the only one that has waited for me. Why are you doing this?”
“Because, you are not telling the truth.” I stated firmly.
“I need it, don’t you see my clothes?” he argued.
“Do you want help? Because there is help. I am going somewhere right now where there is help. If you want to change I will help you.” I said.
“Shelters don’t help.” He replied.
“I am going to a church where they have food, rooms, and a health clinic. Come with me.” I offered fervently.
Brandon then stated how he knew what that was all about. He had been to 10 cities and places offered to help but they made you go to meetings and he didn’t want to go to them, so he got kicked out.
I told him, “Brandon I am sorry you feel that trust has been broken in your past, but if you want what it is you are telling these people. If you want to change, then come with me.”
“Stop trying to force me to get help! I don’t want it!” He said with raised voice.
Brandon shut his eyes tightly and looked like he was trying to control his fists which were clenched at his sides. He started mumbling angrily and walked away.
As he left. the New Yorkers on the crowded rush hour train stared at me and then started to congratulate me as if I had just won a prize, moving to shake my hand and nod their approval.
But as they did, I did not feel like I won, nor did I feel happy, or right. I felt overwhelmingly sad for this man who had walked away.
“You were right. I’ve seen him like five times with that same story.” A young woman said as she moved to stand next to me.
“I wasn’t trying to be right, only to have a real conversation.” I said sadly.
Now I am not naïve. I know that Brandon may very well make more than I do on any given day. And yet I thought about what it must be like to sell yourself as a false story every day. How it must eat at the soul and diminish whatever your true story has the potential to be. To have great gifts, and sell them in order to steal, instead of living in truth. I don’t believe any amount of money is worth that.
Telling truth, living boldly, and believing the best of others. Believing that they will have the courage to grow, and supporting them when they are ready. These are the things I want to learn to do, and the things that I hope others will continue to do for me.
Thank you again Harlem Hero, for a life lesson to carry forward.