Thoughts on Life

Tiny thought: Malleability

by Leandra Medine Cohen
If you buy something, I might earn a commission.

I got on the subway at 68th street yesterday and as the door closed and everyone in the car settled into their positions sitting or standing and holding onto the rails with one hand, while scrolling down the screens of their devices with the other or listening to whatever was playing in their headphones, a man took to the center of the car and told everyone he needed help.

He had lost his job and was homeless and had been on the streets for the past 6 months and would take anything that anyone was willing to give — a dollar, something to eat, whatever. It was humbling, he said to stand before all these strangers and ask for their help and it was quiet in response to his plea and I had barely made out what he’d actually said because I had my headphones in too. No one would make eye contact with the man, I suspect so that they would not have to confront, as is so often demanded in a city like New York, the callousness with which we learn to ignore a plea for help.

The woman sitting next to me was looking at her emails on her phone and without breaking eye contact from her screen, pulled a few dollars out of the front pocket of her backpack and passed the money to the man. “Good luck,” she said as the exchange was taking place and I felt something visceral happen in my body, a sort of opening and oozing that compelled me to double-check my pocket even though I was certain I did not have with me any money and though I was right, I did have a bag of my daughters’ unopened granola bites.

So I pulled them out and as I was doing that another woman from across the car called the man over and handed him a dollar and then another gave him a protein bar and to my right, a gentleman waved a $5 bill to get his attention then handed it over as I gave him the granola bites too — and it struck me that for all the time we spend focused on how disconnected we have become in the information age of hyper-connectivity with necks rubbering down into the screens on our devices while we stand next to each other but never look up, how grisly we act, how bad it has gotten, as we cogitate intensely for hours and days and years on end about what we should do to resurrect the spirit of cultural camaraderie, the beginning of an answer is so obvious and in the tiny moments when we do look up, it is also right there in front of us.

All it takes to crack open a closed heart — to see through from even the meekest corner, is to be brave enough to expose your own.