What You Have Is What You Can Give

Phillip Reeves, frequent contributor to King's 101 and City Engagement Coordinator, reflects on service and learning during his King's career.

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“Excuse me, ladies and gentleman. I hope you’re having a great evening, and I hope I’m not bothering you. My name is Matt, and I’d really appreciate if you could spare a moment of your time.”*

It was June 2017, and I was taking the 1 train to 125th Street. This was the second time I’d heard this general spiel that day and probably the tenth time I’d heard it that week. It wasn’t unique, and I didn’t think the person saying it would be either. I started to tune this out like usual, but, as I gazed to my left to find my earbuds, I couldn’t identify who had just spoken. The only person near where the voice came from was a man with an average build wearing a white dress shirt, black slacks, and black leather shoes. He was a white man with a shaved head, probably in his late twenties, and his eyes were beaming with joy. I knew the voice was his because he was the only person not staring at a phone. That man speaking was unexpected. Out of curiosity, I put my earbuds away.

“I’m currently homeless and unemployed. I know I don’t look the part of your typical homeless man, but that’s because I know the importance of looking my best! I’m applying for jobs every day and want to put my best foot forward.”

I had no idea how he could be this vulnerable with a train full of strangers. He could have put up a front to minimize rejection or maybe play a better angle for more money. Instead, he choose to be painfully honest. I barely let myself be that authentic with my best friends.

“Living in New York is tough, but I get enough help to persevere. If you could spare any food or change, I would be so grateful. I’ve already gotten a banana and some trail mix on this train, so I’m doing well!”

He was smiling ear to ear when he mentioned the banana. You would’ve thought that one banana would change the world based on how joyful he was. I never thought a homeless man could be joyful just because he dressed well and received a banana. Despite the volume of chatter on the train rising to try to drown out this “disturbance”, Matt seemed to be the happiest person on the train.

As he walked my way, I gave him all the cash I had in my wallet—unfortunately only $3.

“I wish I had more to give you, Matt.”

“What you have is what you can give. Thanks for listening and helping me make it to tomorrow,” he replied with a smile.

Matt shattered the stereotypes I had about the homeless. That man had a story; a story I desperately needed to hear and learn to help humanize the suffering and determination of the less fortunate. We learn about suffering every day in class, on the news, and on the streets. Yet, we stunt our education if we reduce the needy to mere topics of conversation. Being face to face with those in need transitions our learning from conversation to experience.

At that moment, what I had to give was $3. At this moment, what we each can give is our time. The Day of Service on January 26th gives each of us a chance to have the stories we associate with the homeless completely rewritten. They are master storytellers. Let’s take the time to listen.

Sign up for the Day of Service here:

*Matt’s words are a rough paraphrase based on my best memory, not a direct transcription.

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