There is a tiny old Chinese woman who sits on the floor of the underpass that connects the Port Authority Bus Terminal with the #7 train. I’ve seen her there for the past few years, so every time I’m headed to the train, I put a small donation in the bag that she has at her feet.
One Friday in late December, I had my money in hand as I approached the woman’s usual spot only to see her being ordered by two New York City policemen to leave. She said not a word and rose. I spoke to one of the policemen who told me it was by order of the Municipal Transit Authority. The mayor doesn’t like to see this, he explained, the reason being that if the city allows one person to sit here, others will follow.
“It’s Christmas time,” I said. And the policeman answered, “Merry Christmas” in a sharp voice that sounded more like Scrooge than Santa Claus.
Perhaps my sympathy for the old Chinese woman goes beyond her need. Perhaps it’s the thought that there but for the grace of God go I.