The Man and the Cart

Seeing is unbelieving


It's been a long time since posting! A few reasons.

Probably the biggest reason is practical: I have been doing email or design-related work on the train, which has cut out my writing time a lot. And when I do write, often it’s just been some journaling, or bits and pieces of a blog post here and there. Plus lately the train has been jammed and I don't always have the chance to sit down with a laptop.

And reason from personal psychoanalysis: I think there is this insecurity that leads me to finding it hard to justify to myself spending the time writing personal reflections, instead of nonprofit or other concrete impact-driven work (similar to how I've felt about sleeping and even exercise). For another post, but I think I'm making some progress on addressing this chip. :)

With that said—I originally wrote the below on April 26th (cleaned up typos and fleshed out the nonsense), looks like right after it happened. I just went back to my notes and came across the story, bringing back a flood of memories and emotions. Here I am, working on some stuff on the train, and yet that pales in comparison to what the small acts this homeless guy showed. It’s humbling.

April 26th

I walked onto the train, and see a guy sitting down with jeans ripped all the way through, and with a big cart overfilled with what looks like his belongings. The man looked in bad shape, and smelled a bit.

The stench seemed to have really gotten to people—I saw one person who walked into the train, and then quickly ran out and around to another door in the same train car. This person wouldn’t walk by this man, even at the risk of missing the train while she ran out and back into the other train door. While not to judge her—maybe she’s had some bad experiences in the past—her visceral reaction was on display.

Whatever someone might think about a homeless man that smells, a few things about him really made an impact on me.

The man was hunched over, and you could barely see his face (especially with his sunglasses on), and he was eating what looked like yogurt. I noticed a newspaper on the floor of the train, which someone might assume was just more litter from his overfilled cart. But after a few seconds it became clear he was using the newspaper as a napkin--so when he put down his cup of yogurt it wouldn't make a messs. This was pretty much confirmed when after he finished, he cleaned up so nicely, better than what you'd imagine from the average New Yorker.

Beyond how he was eating, I noticed every time his cart rolled from the train's movement, he would try to catch it to make sure it didn’t hit any commuters. Even when there were few people on the train and the cart probably wouldn't have touched anyone anyway. And even while the man was trying to sleep, he kept on readjusting the position of his cart to ensure it didn’t go into the aisle.

He just seemed so thoughtful.

Towards the end of the train ride, another guy came on who seemed homeless as well, and he moved the man’s cart to the middle so he could sit. The original dude was just totally resigned and didn’t do anything. Didn’t say anything. I felt bad for him.

Quick Thought

A conscientious homeless person, however bad of a shape s/he might seem to be in, shouldn’t be a surprise, and reflecting on the fact that this was a powerful experience for me is embarrassing in a way. I suppose what is seared into my mind from the experience is that someone who would be considered so far down on his luck with little else to care about, cared about the minor things more than most. Homeless persons, just like people with homes, are not monolithic. I have much to thank this man with his cart. The experience took sympathy, replaced it with awe, and then settled down into inspiration.

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