Saturday, April 2, 2016

"I do not want your coat."


The script was supposed to go something like this: I offer homeless man my "Luther" coat (The story I told AP was that I had fished it out of the River Thames. If you are a fan of the BBC series, "Luther," you would know the iconic coat about which I speak and the circumstance under which it ended up in the Thames.). Anyway back to the script: I offer homeless man my "Luther" coat. Homeless man accepts coat with profound gratitude. Then I continue on my way with a good conscience and feeling very good about myself. Except...in reality, that was not the way in which the event occurred. Contrary to my imagined script, the homeless man utterly refused to accept...in fact, insisted on not accepting my coat, and I, bewildered, perplexed, and stupefied (Please pardon the redundancy. I often tell my students to avoid this in their writing.), walked away feeling like shit and wondering how the homeless man could possibly have reacted in that manner. 

I had just gotten out of the subway on an unusually cold night in March. It was about 9:00 P.M. The March weather in New York City can be very unpredictable. I turned up the collar of my coat, feeling secure from its warmth. I had bought it at Macy's about two years ago because it looked just like the one worn by Luther, the main character from the TV series of the same name. It was definitely the most expensive coat I have owned (Ah, come on! A guy is allowed a small indulgence every once I a while.). I turned the corner on a street in one of Manhattan's more affluent neighborhood (Don't ask what I was doing there.), walked about ten yards down the block (beats me that this great country is still behind the rest of the world in system of measurement), and noticed a homeless man lying on the stoop. As I walked by I wondered how he could lie there without any coat or jacket to keep himself warm.

I continued walking for another ten yards, and an argument began in my head. One voice was saying that I ought to be concerned about the man, and the other voice was saying that it was none of my business. This kept going on back and forth until the concerned voice suggested that I give my coat to the homeless man. The other voice objected vehemently; this was definitely taking things too far, for after all, that was my cool-looking, "Luther" coat. I stopped, turned around, and walked back towards the man. With some reluctance I woke him up and told him that I wanted to offer him my coat to protect him from the cold. He got up, turned and faced me in a sitting position, and said, "I do not want your coat." Did I hear right? Nah, I didn't hear right. I repeated to him that I wanted to offer him my coat for his protection against the weather, and he again responded (slightly louder this time and with a wee bit more force), "I do not want your coat." I turned away chagrined and confused, trying to make sense of what had just happened. 

I will leave you to analyze the preceding in any way you please, but among the many thoughts that pervaded my mind as I went on my way, I kept thinking that when we are stripped bare of almost everything, we cling desperately to that one thing that we still have left - our dignity, refusing to trade it for the world's comforts. Isn't that one of the things that makes us human?

[photo art by Ric Couchman]