Gwen Mandell, the Director of National Outreach at Independent Voting shares a poem she wrote this past winter.
The rhythm of the New York city streets pervades the mind
Entranced by the steps – walking, walking – 400 calories, 5 miles,
How many steps can I attain?
Can I conquer the battle of the bulge?
It’s a percentage game.
Let the walking do the magic.
It’s a moment of freedom.
Thoughts becoming clear,
a vision of life presenting itself, as the steps turn to miles.
The music adds clarity.
I let the lyrics project outward,
even though perhaps only for my own entertainment.
though the experience gives me a sense of my connectedness.
Am I a leader
or simply a participant
in something much bigger than I can imagine?
Happening upon 44th and 8th,
I’m sidetracked by the privilege to be in my head
as I tug the Iphone from my sidepocket
and reach for the reading glasses
which allow me to see the screen.
A 5 dollar bill escapes from my pocket.
Sailing in the wind,
it makes it’s way to the ground
in the heart of a crowded street
where dozens of homeless people have carved their territory.
I hadn’t really made note of how many there were
until 4 black hands immediately moved to swipe the bill
that was now lodged “safely” under my foot.
Engrained with a competitive spirit, my instinct sets in
I move with purpose to claim the $5 bill that’s “rightfully mine,”
conveniently overlooking the poverty
that drives the pursuit to claim the bill.
In the cold,
worn hands grab at the bill,
as if the $5 could transform a life of desperation.
“That’s my bill,” a voice says convincingly.
I’m almost convinced myself,
even though I know it’s fallen from my pocket.
A brawl breaks out,
those running to claim the bill
and other homeless people coming to my aid.
A young man, maybe 30, fire in his eyes,
throws a punch at the man who claims the $5 bill is his.
As the tension escalates,
it occurs to me that we are fighting over $5,
chump change to me –
a meal to those who are fighting for it.
It occurs to me that the man who is fighting for me
who threw a punch in support of this white woman
that he’s never seen before
is as desperate as the guy he’s fighting,
as homeless as the other.
The humanity of his act touches me.
I put my hand on him and thank him
and urge him to back off from a fight
that would deepen a bad situation.
The $5, which was gone
the moment my foot made contact,
hopefully contributes to a small meal.