I am 55 years old now. Back when I was in my 20s I was working in Manhattan, splitting my residential time between New Jersey and Long Island.
I had to take several subways/trains
to get to and from work every day. Near my office was a small no-name coffee shop, and every night they’d put on mega-sale
what was left of their pastries, like a dozen for a dollar.
Once in awhile I’d buy some,
and take them home to use as breakfast for the rest of the week.
I didn’t mind that by the tenth day, they’d be kind of stale,
and need dunking in milk or coffee.
One particular evening as I was walking with the rush of humanity through an underground passageway, I saw a man. He was bedraggled, and as he stood in the midst of people going and coming, he was asking for spare change. I kept walking, but then stopped. I looked at the paper bag in my hands. It held a dozen crullers. People were bumping into me, going in both directions. I was like a rock in a stream, in their way. I turned on my heel, and returned to the man.
“Excuse me,” I said. He turned to look at me. His eyes were clear and bright. He waited for me to speak. “Excuse me,” I repeated. “I don’t have any money to spare, but I have this.” I held out the brown sack. “It’s crullers, from a donut shop. They’re fresh. Made today. You can have them, if you like….”
My words trailed off, not knowing whether my offer
was going to be accepted or rebuffed.
Part of me felt ashamed. Who was I, a well-dressed lady
giving old food to a beggar?
Had I not bought them, they’d have been thrown out with the trash.
My cheeks burned as I waited for his response.
His eyes began to fill with tears,
and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Cake?
You’d give cake… to me?
Lady, it’s been so long. I’m lucky to get a warm meal once a day…
but I never get dessert.”
I pressed the bag into his rough hands and smiled at him,
with tears gathering in my own eyes.
“Thank you, ma’am, thank you.” I said “You’re welcome,”
and continued on my way.
From that day forward, at least once a month, he’d see me before I saw him. From wherever he was in the tunnels and traffic of Manhattan,
he’d come running.
“Hey, Cake Lady!” he’d say brightly. “Enjoy your day! Thanks again!”
That man never stopped thanking me for that simple act,
and would always run off again
before I could offer him anything more.
Eventually, I stopped going to New York City,
changed jobs, and relocated.
I think of that gentleman often, and in his honor, in my heart of hearts I remain “Cake Lady.” That title means more to me
than any other I have ever received.
He also made me think. I wondered about his life, his history.
All of us are beggars in some way.
All of us have a need for something, somewhere, somehow.
If we can, we work for what we need,
or if we can’t work, we swallow our pride and ask others
to help us get what we need.
We have our good days, and our bad ones. Our fates
lie in the hands of the Gods, and one day
we might awake to find that it is time for a new lesson,
that everything we had the day before
is gone, and our future is unknown to us. We have to begin again,
and can only pray that we were kind
to those we met on our way up the ladder,
as we may have to depend upon their kindnesses
during this new journey.
You never know when the tables will turn.
The Gods smile on those of us who are pure of heart,
with no ulterior motives.
So, give to others, because it’s the right thing to do.