I am incredibly good at kicking myself in the ass for missing out on an obvious opportunity. It is my nature to be controlling at times so it sometimes takes a pretty big thought process to just pause to experience a moment - even when it comes to taking an image. I took the train today - which I rarely do - and as I did I passed up the chance to capture a moment I absolutely should have paused for. As I transferred from the L to my next connection, there was a jovial man wearing an electric blue and submarine yellow suit holding a large hand-written sign. He stood above the 6 train platform holding his message which read:
"Smile! You are beautiful. "
I, perpetually in a rush, convinced myself that my tardiness was the reason I couldn’t stop to get the shot - although I composed and lit it in my head. In retrospect I see I was perhaps afraid of engaging in the moment he presented: actually stopping for a moment to contemplate my own existence, beauty and actually, during my crazy day stop and smile?
As I walked a few hours later, there was a young man asleep on the sidewalk outside of Paragon on Broadway. He held a sign, half written, and his hand holding an opened marker suggested he had actually fallen asleep while writing out the sign - his plea for some sort of help, compassion, understanding, humanity… It reads:
I turn away and start to walk, never quite knowing what to do - Wanting to help, but knowing that money I could leave in the cup of this sleeping young man would likely be stolen. If I took out my camera and actually photographed him, what would that say about me? Would that be wrong; an exploitation? I ponder and over-ponder , as I always do and finally decide. Perhaps by capturing the moment I could help in a different way. I walk back towards him, take out my camera and take the shot.
A block later, I revisit another sign I passed hours earlier. Abandoned it has a similar message that I finally stop to read:
"Just trying to live. Anything helps. Thank you. God Bless."
I walk past it, come back, pause and take the shot.
I get dinner and walk over to the train to make my way home with my meal. As I walk down the stairs, back to the L, I see another sign. This one is held by a young man who is looking down at his feet as he sits legs crossed up against a pillar. As swarms of people pass him, he is invisible and so is his sign. It reads:
"Homeless. Anything helps.”
I too, walk on by. The message of the sign echoing again in my head as I consider walking back to take the shot. As I reach the bottom of the steps my train pulls in. I am tired. I, as always, am running late but decide to miss my train. I turn around, walk back up the stairs and bend down to look in his eyes.
"Hi", I smile, "Would you like some soup?". I hand him a small bag with the hot soup I had just purchased. He smiles back, thanks me and asks me the time. After our quick exchange, I wish him the best and make my way home.
I didn’t get the “shot”, but at least I won’t look back and feel as though I missed the sign.