The currency of forgiveness won’t always feed the hungry, but choosing compassion over condemnation is the right price for a meal.
It happened so quickly. One second I was pouring coffee from the spigot, the next wondering where I had placed my breakfast. An employee mumbled something, and then a gruff cop asked if I wanted to press charges for theft.
Poverty a.k.a. desperation wore a threadbare jogging suit in winter, sported a scruffy beard, and sat surrounded by two police officers. We locked eyes.
I saw him.
And so many souls in him: he was all men, speaking silently to me, the face of raw, chronic disappointment, ragged with despair. He could go to jail or to the hospital. I knew either was hell.
“No,” I said. “He’s in pain. He’s not well. He’s hungry. Give him something to eat.”
A customer sitting nearby said he’d pitch in to buy him breakfast.
“You can’t do that, m’am,” said the cop.
Earlier that morning, I had fallen in love with the stately, gilded columns and coffered ceiling of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, its wooden booths where thousands of travelers have rested weary legs, a shoe shine nearby still buffing away, with Sinatra crooning over the radio.
And then a man stole my food.
“He’s acting like a four-year old,” said the cop.
People pay so much money to therapists to access their “inner child” and let go of pain in safety.
I paid about $4 to eat a purée of acai berries, a trendy health food from tropical forests. Garnished with pomegranates, on a base of almond butter, my nourishment was hard to swallow knowing that someone else was hungry.
Of course, he shouldn’t have committed petty theft. But not long ago, I heard someone describe poverty as a sin. And on this day, sin was skinny and whispered: “I take from you, for I have nothing, I know nothing else.”
I left the station still in love with this moment, with this place, knowing that I’m not bereft of anything as long as I have a capacity to forgive. To the man who tried to steal my breakfast, I wish I had an answer to your pain, but I don’t. I was just a stranger who likes pomegranates, passing through the city of brotherly love.
Originally published on Medium, November 2018