“74 more cents and I’ll have a dollar.”
Going through some photos from last year and came across this one. This is Joseph, we met just after boarding the 6 train at Union Square in NYC. I heard him before seeing him. I was standing at the far end of the crowded car when he got on at the other end announcing himself, “Hello good people of New York, my name is Joseph.”
Personally I’ve mostly stopped giving money to street people for a few reasons, one is that I myself have very little of it these days but also I’ve become overwhelmed, especially in a city like NY. These days I hand out gift cards for food which hopefully have a greater impact on a person’s life. But Joseph was different, he wasn’t asking for a lot, just pennies or whatever change we could spare.
He held a small plastic baggie with some coins in it as he swayed through the car telling his story. He hears voices, he bellowed, this is why it is difficult for him to keep a job. At first he thought they were real—that everyone could hear them—but then people told him they were not. Imagine, he suggested to us, the sound of all these voices you hear in this car right now were in your head but you were in a room alone, and they were talking to you directly.
As he swayed through the moving car a few people put money in his plastic baggie, but no one seemed to look at him. I thought my stop would arrive before he would get to me but it didn’t. When he approached I reached into my pocket and found a quarter and a penny, 26 cents, and felt a little foolish as I offered it to him and apologized, saying that was all that I had. “No worries,” he replied, “74 more cents and I’ll have a dollar.”
I told him my name was Joseph as well, and asked if I could take his photo, that I like to document people I meet. He got a big grin on his face and struck a pose. After the shutter clicked he told me to put his face on CNN. We fist bumped and as he parted I said, “Good luck, Joseph.” And as he exited the car he turned to me and replied, “I’ll be alright, every day is a gift from God. If you believe that, which I do, how bad can things be.” With that he exited into a sea of humanity.
Thank you Joseph, I need to hear that—be reminded of that—every day; I often forget. This photo cost me 26 cents, but is worth so much more. Everyone has a story, sometimes we just need to listen. There are more than 1.6 million people on Manhattan Island and on that day I heard a small part of Joseph's story. And now as I type these words more than 6 months later I wonder how he is doing. I never did get his photo on CNN, but on this day he is still reminding me that every day is a gift.