Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Subway Encounter

Supplied with two bag lunches, we made our way out of the pouring rain and cold down into the cavernous regions of the Philly subway system. 

We were told that we could expect to find many of the city’s homeless there because of the inclement weather. And sure enough, as soon as we entered, we were surrounded by hungry-looking men who immediately zeroed in on those of us who visibly held on to a bag lunch.
They knew the routine. Fabian, Kendra and I were suddenly facing a tall rather imposing man who told us his story of needing something to eat because his stopover in Philadelphia ended up being longer than he anticipated, forcing him to look for some food for the overnight. 

We gave him one of our bags and simultaneously another guy was begging for the second. He practically grabbed the brown bag out of my hands.

So, now what? We no longer had anything to give. How were we going to actually sit down and talk to any one of the others who mainly were also looking for a bag lunch?

Our leader encouraged us to wander, trying to be creative. Finally, my cohorts and I found Michael. Yes, he was searching for a sandwich, but in the meantime he engaged with us, telling us his story.

He was an older man whose family was in dire straits but Michael believed in hope and in God’s ever present generosity. Throughout his life God had provided and so while he was going through this rough patch, he knew it was not permanent.

While we three listened to Michael, a rather erratic young man approached our little group yelling and pointing straight at me, accusing me of something. I could not understand him and disgustedly he left us, only to reappear a little later.

Michael returned to his story with a most powerful message of gratefulness.  He virtually could not stop talking about his awe and wonder at having God in his life. Emphatically, he repeated that he was most humbled and grateful for life.

Moved by this man’s faith, Fabian gave him some money, even if we did not have food for him. Michael assured us it was enough to get a sandwich later. In turn, I was moved by my cohort’s action. In the end, all that matters is the encounters we have with one another and the love we show, no matter the circumstances.


Michael did not ask about us, but if he had, we would have explained that we were part of a group of ten from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota on spring break in Philly. We chose to go to the fifth largest city (approximately 1.5 million people) in the United States, which is known for its many and growing number of homeless people.

Mary Jane Berger, OSB

No comments:

Post a Comment