All I had to do was take Saleha to New York. Not to Africa. And not to Haiti, where I recently saw firsthand what abject poverty looks like. It was in New York, where she learned that she can help poor and hungry people. It is a big leap for a privileged first-world teenager, who was in New York to celebrate her birthday by eating good food, shopping and sightseeing. A teenager–like thousands of others who walk on this planet in a bubble with their heads bowed to their personal electronic devices.
It started that first night with a full belly when she decided to give her leftovers to the first homeless person she saw. Twenty steps later, a very grateful woman took it, her sign declared she had three hungry children. As we walked away, Saleha declared…
…I feel bad.
Well, do you have money?
Why don’t you buy her a meal?
Saleha’s offer was graciously turned down repeatedly. Dejected, she walked away.
One day, several conversations, many meals, and a few leftover packs of food later, I asked what we should do on our last day in New York.
I want to spend my money to buy food and give it to the homeless. And I want to find that woman.
My heart ached and soared. An antidote to the weekend of loud screaming lights, wafts of cloying perfume, hours of shopping, and the constant sightings of posters with half naked bodies promising many things. And a soothing healing balm to my own personal wounds inflicted by the teenage verbal and emotional rocks she sometimes throws at me.
After a gluttonous Sunday brunch, armed with bags of sandwiches, off we went to Central Park to find hungry homeless people.
Some were easy, some were not. And we never found that woman.
This is complicated.
It sometimes is, my love.
When we got home, she churned ideas with a friend and they are off to pretty solid start on easy ways for people to donate money to Dimes for Dining. With the cash, they are going to make food, and I will drive them to personally feed hungry people on the street. And maybe it won’t be so complicated for right now.
So it was the big city in America that did it. Not a faraway small city with mountains and rivers of trash. It was in New York that she connected with the hungry and homeless who were surrounded by wealth and obscene overindulgence.
For her, and for now, I guess charity does start at home.