Taking Off the Blinders: Beauty on the Streets of NY
When you work in the East Village, there is no such thing as a casual, leisurely walk around the neighborhood to clear your head.
Leaving the office at lunchtime, I walked quickly, trying to ignore a stomachache and get myself to a midday service at my church without being too late. I was plodding forward so intently that when I registered the words of the woman on the street, I had already passed her by. She spoke out softly, asking if I could spare some money to buy her breakfast. I looked back and smiled at her as I passed; I saw that she was holding a baby in her arms, a wiggly, strawberry-blond boy that reminded me of myself as a toddler. We exchanged an awkward smile and I kept walking.
And immediately as I went I questioned why I didn't stop and get her breakfast, why I was so lost in my own head that I couldn't reach out to her where she was, or at the very least offer her the granola bar in my bag. "Jesus would have stopped to greet her," I thought. "I am here to show his love, Jesus' love, to the people I meet. Why am I so cowardly, so closed-minded to my brothers and sisters around me? Why was it not my instinct to bend to her aid? And for that matter, how am I supposed to respond when there are so many others like this woman all throughout the streets? How do I not become jaded; how do I acknowledge their humanity even within the bounds of my own limited finances?"
I kept walking, and thinking.
And then there was someone else who made me turn around and look back, after I'd already plowed on ahead: "Would you like to sign your support to stand with Planned Parenthood?" The question didn't really hit me until I was already past. When I looked back, the man's back was already turned; he was asking other passersby the same thing. And I felt a wave of nausea. I thought of the woman with the strawberry-blonde baby in her arms; I thought of how I had walked on by without giving her support to feed the child she was raising. I thought of what this man's solution would have been to her problems. I thought of how he believed he was helping women; I thought of the friends I have who believe the same. I thought of the women I know who believe there is no better option for their lives than abortion. I thought of those who have so little hope for babies born into difficult situations that they think they would be better off dead. I thought of how I'd stood on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood last week praying- the original Planned Parenthood building just a few minutes walk away from where I now stood- and was cursed and ridiculed by people who couldn't relate to my thinking at all, who couldn't find an entry point for understanding why I was doing what I was doing. I thought of all the girls I'd seen walk through those doors. And I felt sick.
I kept on walking; I went to church. I knelt before God and asked for His help and forgiveness, for His mercy to flood my soul. I asked Him to act through me, for I knew that I was in total need of Him. More of Him and less of me, I prayed.
After church I found a scrap piece of paper among the pamphlets in the back. It was actually a flyer for a crisis pregnancy center, but I folded it over into a small, white rectangle, took out my pen and scribbled a note:
"You want to help women, I believe women deserve much, much more than Planned Parenthood.
I really do wish you all the best- I think we have more in common than we realize, and I hope that in the future there can be more compassionate dialogue between our viewpoints.
Your fellow New Yorker,
When I walked by again, the Planned Parenthood guy greeted me with the same friendly smile and the same question, though his expression turned to unease and maybe a little bit of fear when he saw I was handing him a note instead of signing his petition. I told him "Have a good day," and I meant it, though I have no idea if he believed me or not. He might have shredded my note on the spot; he might have sighed and shaken his head before throwing it out. Who knows. But I couldn't walk by without letting him know that not every woman on the street supports what he is selling, and that those crazy pro-life people who oppose Planned Parenthood are not all about repressing women.
And as I walked away, I hoped and prayed that the woman with the baby would still be outside so I could buy her a meal. I'd gotten a second chance in one instance to do what was right instead of walking on by, I wanted another. And this instance felt more important. I prayed to see her again.
But she wasn't there in the spot she'd been before, and she wasn't anywhere nearby either. Maybe someone else had gotten her breakfast. Maybe she left to try her luck in a different neighborhood. Maybe she didn't really want to look at me again.
But if I do see her again, or if I see her in the eyes of another, I'll be prepared next time. I'll come over and look her in the eyes, and I'll offer her food; I'll do what little I can to recognize and nurture the life within her. Because we belong to each other, and I can't sit apart with my morals and wait for others to care for those who are crying out for help.
Erin Cain is a writer and editor living in New York City. A New Jersey native and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she spent two years living in California and working in architecture for Disneyland before moving back east to pursue publishing. She loves bringing stories to life, be it through writing, editing, music, painting or design. She also loves tea in all its forms, children's books, and marching bands. She strives to delve deeper into the treasures of her faith, and she is constantly trying (and often failing) to grow in virtue and love. She writes at Work in Progress.
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