Tag Archives: Humanity

I went to church today, but Jesus was outside.

 “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”~Anne Frank

So first a couple things. The above image is of of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral here in Buffalo. It’s a beautiful and welcoming space. And below is the life-sized Homeless Jesus statue that lies outside the church facing Main Street. The statue was sculpted by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz; he also has a Begging Jesus statue outside the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, in NYC. I would walk past it on 31st Street (I think) as I walked to my hotel when I was studying there a couple years ago. What I found interesting about the Begging Jesus statue is that people would leave money in his outstretched hand and no one (that I saw) would take it. The Homeless Jesus statue pictured below is rather controversial (click the above link or google it), and I am really proud that it ended up in my hometown and at St. Paul’s. I have to add that I have no affiliation with St. Paul’s other than they are nice enough to leave there doors open throughout the day and maybe once a month or so I stop by in the midst of a busy day for some quiet time in their beautiful sanctuary. And I’d be remiss if I also didn’t comment on the fact that it is a rarity that a church’s doors are left open other than during formal service/worship time. Thank you St. Paul’s; you have, on certain occasions (such as today) been an oasis for me.

The Homeless Jesus statue arrived in Buffalo last spring, March I think, and that’s around the time the above and below photos were taken. To see it in person really is moving; it’s life-size and at first glance one may think it is a person lying there. But then you notice the scar on his feet. Right from the very beginning people began leaving things for the homeless…articles of clothing, sundries, food. Some people came to pray.

While the above set of photos were taken last spring, the below set were taken today. And now I have to tell you a bit about my day, without getting too personal. But before I do I have to add that I’ve heard recently that more and more people have been leaving things at the staue for the homeless that the church has built a small structure behind it (pictured below) onto which things can be hung. I went there to see that today, but I’m jumping ahead.

Last night I had insomnia. I’ve been prone to it most of my adult life, but last night was bad. Birds were chirping when I finally nodded off. My alarm was set for 5:30am; I ended up calling in “sick” to work today because of lack of sleep. I fell back to sleep and awoke around 11am. Feeling in a grog I went out for coffee. While sitting there, and feeling somewhat bad for abandoning my co-workers on what I know was a very busy day, I thought of St. Paul’s and wondered if it was open as usual (thankfully it was). I simply wanted a place to sit in silence; a holy place.   

It was/is an incredibly beautiful day today. And as I approached the church I came upon the scene below. There were two or three women placing things on the statue and offering them to people as well. As I got off my bike I could hear the one woman say, “Take what you need; that’s why we are leaving it here.” Tears welled up in my eyes. I snapped a few photos. And before leaving (to go around to the front of the church at the sanctuary entrance), I approached the women who where now talking to someone else. I gave them my card and asked if I could post pictures on my blog later. I also asked if they were affiliated with any group or organization. The one women didn’t here me and asked what I had just asked, so I repeated the question. Then she smiled, “No, it’s just us.”

When I went into the sanctuary I was the only one there. It was just what I needed; I sat there for probably a half hour in the chilly stillness. Though I am a Christian it is rare for me to write strictly from a Christian perspective as I feel that the omnipresent consciousness that we call God transcends all religions and is equal to all (and equal to all in non-religions, if that makes any sense). 


And as I sat there in the quietness of this beautiful sanctuary in the heart of a city at lunchtime, I couldn’t help but stare at the altar and the windows behind the altar. Because just beyond those windows–in the rear of the church and facing downtown–was where the statue of the Homeless Jesus lay. Yes, of course I realize that it is only a statue in the same way a church is only a building. But I also believe that material things can be manifestations of the Spirit. If, for example, that statue were not there people would not be bringing things for the homeless; people would not be standing on a city corner and praying. And yes I also realize that people would be caring for the homeless elsewhere, but because of that statue they were caring for them right there; right now, on this beautiful day just a few weeks before the day we celebrate the birth of the light that shines in the darkness. 


As a Christian I would not be telling the truth if I didn’t add that I really am not sure what to think about Jesus. Was he truly the Son of Man? The only begotten son of God? I have a difficulty believing that (literalists, please do not send me hate mail). More so, I believe he was one of a handful of enlightened masters (messengers or teachers) that came to help us learn and grow…how to be fully human. And on this day people were following his example, they were outside doing his work. I think we all can learn from the actions of others. And on this day I learned what it meant to offer selfless service–selfless love–to strangers on the street.


I was sitting in a comfortable pew, but Jesus–or at least the spirit from whence he and we all came–was out on the street, working through common souls like you and I. Even in the midst of the confusing world in which we live today, there is still good. So much good. I just have to look for it sometimes.

And this is what I thought as I sat alone in a pew in a really large and ornate but chilly and incredibly silent sanctuary today.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

~Matthew 25:35

Urban Simplicity

Peace. Free Stuff.

What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding.”
~Nick Lowe

Precarious. That’s the word that came to mind this morning when thinking about the times in which we live. That could also have been a good descriptor of my emotional state as I rode my bike to a coffee shop. Has the world and everyone in it gone insane? There is just so much darkness. So much disconnect. Yesterday’s shootings are just the tip of the iceberg; just one in many destructive things that are happening as I type these very words. And then I came upon the scene pictured above. An apartment on South Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo with a table out front on the sidewalk. A few odds and ends; nothing of any real value. But rather than throw them in the trash they took the time to set up a table, lay the items out, and make a sign…Peace; Free Stuff. They took the time to offer this stuff to someone who may need it. It brought a smile to my face then just as it does now. And it made me remember that there is still good.

With all the recent events I will be honest and say that I feel somewhat helpless. How can I possibly make a difference in this world. A difference in anything. And then I saw this and it made me remember. It made me remember that goodness can happen in really small steps. The words of a local and inspiring retired clergyman, the Reverend Phil Smith, came to mind (and I’m paraphrasing)…”America is really good at waging war, the best in the world in fact, but what we really need is to wage peace.”

Our society is seriously broken. And by “our” I don’t just mean American. We really need to do something, but what? What can we as individuals do to make a difference? What came to me was that we as individuals do need to wage peace at a personal level. Simply being nice to people in your own little world, regardless of their gender, skin color, or religion. Help people whenever you can. Maybe it can have a ripple effect.

I really do worry about the next generation, my son’s generation. And his children’s generation after him. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am waiting for the next MLK or Gandhi to appear to inspire us into a revolution, to change things and turn us around to face things differently…to wake us up. Though I’m not sure we’d recognize the next prophet if they did appear on the scene…we don’t have enough space for them. But I also think how it can be us. It can be us to make small changes each day to make ourselves as a society that much more…well, societal.

If we did this maybe it would stop that one person from doing something terrible. Maybe it would stop that one single person and make them think that they shouldn’t do the terrible act they had in mind. Maybe it would soften their heart enough to see the consequences. Maybe it would make them realize that they are loved and they themselves can in fact be love. And if our kindness changed even one single person that would be enough. But then maybe it would have a ripple effect.

We, as collective consciousness, really need to look within. It’s not us against them, or vice versa. It’s just us, the people of planet earth. We really need to do this if we want to survive.

And this is what I was thinking when my heart was warmed when I saw a little table of things out that were offered free for the taking as I was riding my bike to a coffee shop on a grey and chilly December morning.

This is my commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.
John 15:12

Urban Simplicity

This is Sly…

“Hey Allentown!” That’s what I hear frequently while on my bike in the Elmwood Village. That’s what Sly (pictured above) knows me as. He used to panhandle in Allentown but as he put it, “I’m not allowed in Allentown anymore.” But that’s an entire neighborhood, I’d think to myself. He does have a rather gruff appearance (and that’s putting it mildly). Some are afraid of him, some–with closed minds and hearts–get angry with him. Once I saw a couple collage boys threaten him physically when he asked them for money. This, I’ve heard is also the reason he’s “not allowed” in Allentown any longer. I was told he was beat up by someone there a couple years ago and told it will happen again if he returns. But nonetheless, he is a fellow human on this rock we call earth, and at times–when he is lucid–a very friendly and coherent one at that. Such was the other night when I ran into him while exiting a bar on Elmwood. I was walking to my bike when I hear his familiar beckon, “Hey Allentown,”  and I turn to see him with his distinctive hobble coming over to me. I gave him a couple bucks and asked how he was doing. “Oh you know you know.” Where you staying I asked. “Right here, man, right here on the street.” How about winter, like last winter, I questioned. “Oh you know, hospitals, churches, and other places.” He has a mental disability, and I’ve heard he spends winter nights at the psychiatric hospital, but I don’t know if that is true. I’ve also heard that he is a Vietnam vet and had an emotional break during the war. I don’t know if that is true either. But what I do know is that he is a nice guy and interesting to talk to at times. And it’s interesting, I am finding out that when I ask people if I can take their photo most people say yes right away. This was the case with Sly the other night. He commented on my bike, “Hey man, that’s a nice bike, you didn’t tell me you got a new bike.” Would you stand in front of it while I take your picture, I asked him. He immediately stood in front the bike, flashed a grin from ear-to-ear and held out the peace sign with his right hand (and, FYI, for those who may make the sweeping rash judgment of street people, that’s a soda in his left hand, not a beer). Personally, I feel the world needs more Slys and less “Donalds” (sorry, there’s my judgment). When we shook hands I noticed, as I have in the past, how calloused his hand was; likely from the hard life of living on the street. And as I pedaled away on a really lovely summer night I saw him make a b-line towards a group young college girls and could hear his familiar mumble, “Hey can you help me out with a little something, I’m trying to get something to eat.” When they turned him down, or more specifically ignored him and kept a large distance from him as they passed, he moved onto the next group of people coming down the street. Thankfully I do not know this personally, and contrary to what a lot of people think about the homeless (another judgment, sorry), is that one can not be lazy or stupid to survive on the street. As the summer ends and the cold months loom closer each day, I pray that Sly makes it through, because he makes this world just a little bit more interesting. And that’s what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home on a warm summer’s night with a few beers in my belly.

Urban Simplicity

This is Sly…

“Hey Allentown!” That’s what I hear frequently while on my bike in the Elmwood Village. That’s what Sly (pictured above) knows me as. He used to panhandle in Allentown but as he put it, “I’m not allowed in Allentown anymore.” But that’s an entire neighborhood, I’d think to myself. He does have a rather gruff appearance (and that’s putting it mildly). Some are afraid of him, some–with closed minds and hearts–get angry with him. Once I saw a couple collage boys threaten him physically when he asked them for money. This, I’ve heard is also the reason he’s “not allowed” in Allentown any longer. I was told he was beat up by someone there a couple years ago and told it will happen again if he returns. But nonetheless, he is a fellow human on this rock we call earth, and at times–when he is lucid–a very friendly and coherent one at that. Such was the other night when I ran into him while exiting a bar on Elmwood. I was walking to my bike when I hear his familiar beckon, “Hey Allentown,”  and I turn to see him with his distinctive hobble coming over to me. I gave him a couple bucks and asked how he was doing. “Oh you know you know.” Where you staying I asked. “Right here, man, right here on the street.” How about winter, like last winter, I questioned. “Oh you know, hospitals, churches, and other places.” He has a mental disability, and I’ve heard he spends winter nights at the psychiatric hospital, but I don’t know if that is true. I’ve also heard that he is a Vietnam vet and had an emotional break during the war. I don’t know if that is true either. But what I do know is that he is a nice guy and interesting to talk to at times. And it’s interesting, I am finding out that when I ask people if I can take their photo most people say yes right away. This was the case with Sly the other night. He commented on my bike, “Hey man, that’s a nice bike, you didn’t tell me you got a new bike.” Would you stand in front of it while I take your picture, I asked him. He immediately stood in front the bike, flashed a grin from ear-to-ear and held out the peace sign with his right hand (and, FYI, for those who may make the sweeping rash judgment of street people, that’s a soda in his left hand, not a beer). Personally, I feel the world needs more Slys and less “Donalds” (sorry, there’s my judgment). When we shook hands I noticed, as I have in the past, how calloused his hand was; likely from the hard life of living on the street. And as I pedaled away on a really lovely summer night I saw him make a b-line towards a group young college girls and could hear his familiar mumble, “Hey can you help me out with a little something, I’m trying to get something to eat.” When they turned him down, or more specifically ignored him and kept a large distance from him as they passed, he moved onto the next group of people coming down the street. Thankfully I do not know this personally, and contrary to what a lot of people think about the homeless (another judgment, sorry), is that one can not be lazy or stupid to survive on the street. As the summer ends and the cold months loom closer each day, I pray that Sly makes it through, because he makes this world just a little bit more interesting. And that’s what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home on a warm summer’s night with a few beers in my belly.

Urban Simplicity

Thoughts from a pew…

My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.
~Jimmy Carter
I sat in a pew this morning, the first time in more than a month. I’m not sure why it’s been this long without attending the church which I love, but it has. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t been to worship since then. I like to think that I worship the Divine (or God, or Universe, or Spirit, or whatever name you feel most comfortable with) on a daily basis. I worship this Presence when I ride my bike, for example, and when I take photos, and when I have a meaningful interaction with someone, be it a friend, family, co-worker, or complete stranger. I also worship this Presence when I lay in bed in the morning just after the alarm goes off and it’s the beginning of a new day. Because, to me, God is in all things (including you and I) and is, in fact, what makes each one of us connected to and inseparable from not only each other in some indescribable way, but also the very source (or consciousness) from which we came and will return. So today I worshiped the Divine more formally, in church. And it felt good.

The guest preacher spoke on the Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books in the New Testament and is attributed to James the brother of Jesus. It’s a somewhat small book but has a powerful and straightforward message. Some say it is a blueprint for daily living. Personally, it has had a profound effect on me and I return to it often. To me, the book is a synopsis of what Christianity at it’s core is about…not just having faith in a Higher Power, but having action as well.

Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” 
James 2:17

This morning, before leaving the house, as I was having coffee and scrolling through Facebook I came across a photo of Hungarian citizens lining a highway with crates of food and other necessities. They were just average citizens and not affiliated with any government organization. They were lining the highway with food because they knew that soon, very soon, there would be thousands of refugees walking that road. The image was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.

Humans helping other humans is faith in action. But it goes beyond that, I think. Because this is something that is written on each of our hearts, whether or not you have faith in anything, or whether or not you care to admit it. Deep down each of us knows this.

Inversely, a judge denying other humans of a very basic right because of “her religion” is not faith at all. And deep down—somewhere beneath the crust of her hardened heart—she knows this too. But she will not allow herself to see it. If she did read the scriptures of her so called religion she would see that Jesus spoke of inclusiveness, not exclusivity.

Prior to the preacher’s sermon this morning, a deacon read from the Book of Matthew…

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.
Matthew 7:12a

What’s interesting, I think is that this statement—which is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule—is stated in many variations in nearly every major religion and spiritual movement. Jesus himself says this rather bluntly at the end of the statement…“For this sums up the law of the profits.” Matthew 7:12b

Here’s a few examples…

Judaism: Love your neighbor as yourself. 
Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. 
Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others. 
Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. 
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. 
Native American: Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself. 

Then, during worship this morning, as the congregation stood and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison, it moved me as it often does. The words themselves move me, but so does the thought of so many others around the globe saying this prayer (possibly at that same moment). I hope that some of us—myself included—listened to what we were saying, letting the words sink in and take root.

Last year when I was in NYC I witnessed something I will never forget. A homeless man asked a person to buy him a hotdog from a street vender because he was hungry. The person he asked (wearing a suit) not only bought him food, but he bought himself some as well and then sat on the sidewalk and ate with the man. To me that was not only worship, it was holy communion (Namaste…the soul within me acknowledges the soul within you).

Just being nice to one another—and seeing each person as an equal—can make such a difference in someone’s day (including your own). It’s not always easy but it is possible. When I write these things I am doing so because sometimes they just need to come out, but mostly because I need reminders for myself. And in a way, this in itself, I suppose, is a form of worship, and when you read this we are in sanctuary together.

And this is what I was thinking about as I sat in a pew on a hot and humid Sunday morning in September.

My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.
~The Dalai Lama 

Urban Simplicity.

An Ode to Dr. Wayne Dyer, plus Three Quotes and a Brief Video…


“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.”

An Ode to Dr. Wayne Dyer
I’ve read a few of your books,
which I first stumbled upon some years ago
in a used book store.
Your work,
along with Deepak and other contemporaries,
changed me.
For the better.
Your voice and face seemed so familiar,
on TV.
I saw you speak in Toronto,
at an “I Can Do It!” conference.
I had plans on seeing you again,
this time in New York,
this fall,
ironically, on my birthday.
Another “I Can Do It!”
Well you did it, Wayne.
You inspired countless people.
You’ve changed lives.
You, yourself overcame adversity.
And now you did it again,
you made the great transition.
So on my birthday this fall,
I will think of you,
I will thank you,
as I do now.
Godspeed Wayne,
you did it.

Tony and his really groovy bike…

So this is Tony. And that’s his really groovy bike. I was riding home today on a particularly hot and humid evening after a bustling day at work when I noticed him in front of me. He was riding somewhat slow and with headphones on, so I pulled up next to him and had to yell to get his attention. I asked if I could take his photo and he said yes. I started to pull over but he pointed to a sunny spot at the next corner. Tony is proud of his bike, as he should be. He built it from the ground up. I asked him if he minded if I took a few photos and he obliged, but with the caveat “don’t forget the hog” (which is in the bottom photo). That is one cool bike, I told him. Thank you was all he said. And then we rode our separate ways.

Urban Simplicity.

Tony and his really groovy bike…

So this is Tony. And that’s his really groovy bike. I was riding home today on a particularly hot and humid evening after a bustling day at work when I noticed him in front of me. He was riding somewhat slow and with headphones on, so I pulled up next to him and had to yell to get his attention. I asked if I could take his photo and he said yes. I started to pull over but he pointed to a sunny spot at the next corner. Tony is proud of his bike, as he should be. He built it from the ground up. I asked him if he minded if I took a few photos and he obliged, but with the caveat “don’t forget the hog” (which is visible on his fender in the top photo, and in a closeup in the bottom photo). That is one cool bike, I told him. Thank you was all he said. And then we rode our separate ways.

Urban Simplicity.

e·qual·i·ty

 e·qual·i·ty

əˈkwälədē/

noun

noun: equality

the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.

So these are a couple photos I took yesterday on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. I happened to be in NYC when the marriage equality act was passed and had heard that there was a gathering down there so I went and took a look. The “gathering” turned out to be thousands. It was in front of the historic Stonewall Inn. And it was really moving. People were crying, people were smiling, people were congratulating one another. There were local and state media speaking. And in the air there was hope.

I mentioned this earlier on Facebook, but I have to tell this brief story again. When I first got there I—being a somewhat smallish man—couldn’t see because of the crowds. I held my camera in the air above my head but still couldn’t get a good shot. I saw a guy standing on a wrought iron fence nearby, so I hopped up as well. I was just about to snap a photo when I hear, “Hey…you can’t be up there. Ya gotta get down.” Turning, I saw it was two NYPD. Somewhat intimidated I jumped down and apologized. I told them I was trying to get a good photo. “Well, did you get the photo,” one of them asked? Nope, not yet, I told him. He then told me that I could get up there to take the photo but then I had to get down. I snapped a couple photos. And when I got down I thanked them and they both shook my hand. I found it very moving and it only added to the positive feeling of this historic event.

 

 

Urban Simplicity.

e·qual·i·ty

 e·qual·i·ty
əˈkwälədē/
noun
noun: equality
the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.
So these are a couple photos I took yesterday on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. I happened to be in NYC when the marriage equality act was passed and had heard that there was a gathering down there so I went and took a look. The “gathering” turned out to be thousands. It was in front of the historic Stonewall Inn. And it was really moving. People were crying, people were smiling, people were congratulating one another. There were local and state media speaking. And in the air there was hope.
I mentioned this earlier on Facebook, but I have to tell this brief story again. When I first got there I—being a somewhat smallish man—couldn’t see because of the crowds. I held my camera in the air above my head but still couldn’t get a good shot. I saw a guy standing on a wrought iron fence nearby, so I hopped up as well. I was just about to snap a photo when I hear, “Hey…you can’t be up there. Ya gotta get down.” Turning, I saw it was two NYPD. Somewhat intimidated I jumped down and apologized. I told them I was trying to get a good photo. “Well, did you get the photo,” one of them asked? Nope, not yet, I told him. He then told me that I could get up there to take the photo but then I had to get down. I snapped a couple photos. And when I got down I thanked them and they both shook my hand. I found it very moving and it only added to the positive feeling of this historic event.

This is Harry…

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Matthew 25:35

If you’ve been to this blog before then you know that I have a soft spot for the homeless. My view is that it can happen to any of us. I really believe this. I don’t think that a homeless person ever aspired to or thought they would be in the predicament they may find themselves. But they are. As for myself, if I were unable to earn a paycheck it would only be a couple weeks before I would be in financial trouble.

Anyhow, this is Harry. I saw him on 14th Street just off Union Square. I’m in NYC for the weekend and was on my way out for dinner and then a few beers before walking around and taking photos. And as I passed him on my way to a favorite Thai restaurant I saw him eating his dinner on the street.

After dropping a couple bucks in his hat and introducing myself I asked if I could take his photo. Surprisingly he said “sure.” Not all the people I ask agree to have their photo taken, later this day two other guys declined. Anyhow, I told him that I like to hear people’s stories, and that I do this to bring an awareness to the homeless or semi-homeless.

Harry told me e was from Kansas City, then had to leave (he declined to tell me why). He first landed in New Orleans, where he squatted with a few other people in an abandoned building. New Orleans attracts a lot of homeless these days, he told me, because ever since Katrina there are a lot of empty buildings. I told him how I lived in NOLA quite a few years ago for a short period (mid-1980’s) and that I was actually very near being without a place to call home at the time, and that it was the first and only time I was truly hungry (and somewhat scared).

He then headed up here, to NY where he is sleeping outside a building on the lower east side. We talked briefly about his safety and he was concerned, but where he sleeps now is pretty safe, he said. He also said that he was just going through a rough patch right now, but he’ll be ok. After a bit more talk we shook hands and parted. I went to a Thai restaurant while Harry ate his dinner on the street. And as I ate the food didn’t taste as good as it usually does. Not that the restaurant was at fault…I stop here whenever I’m in NYC, and it was as good as usual. It’s just that I couldn’t stop thinking about Harry. I hope he is warm tonight, because as I type these words it is raining outside

Urban Simplicity.

This is Harry…

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
Matthew 25:35
If you’ve been to this blog before then you know that I have a soft spot for the homeless. My view is that it can happen to any of us. I really believe this. I don’t think that a homeless person ever aspired to or thought they would be in the predicament they may find themselves. But they are. As for myself, if I were unable to earn a paycheck it would only be a couple weeks before I would be in financial trouble.
Anyhow, this is Harry. I saw him on 14th Street just off Union Square. I’m in NYC for the weekend and was on my way out for dinner and then a few beers before walking around and taking photos. And as I passed him on my way to a favorite Thai restaurant I saw him eating his dinner on the street.
After dropping a couple bucks in his hat and introducing myself I asked if I could take his photo. Surprisingly he said “sure.” Not all the people I ask agree to have their photo taken, later this day two other guys declined. Anyhow, I told him that I like to hear people’s stories, and that I do this to bring an awareness to the homeless or semi-homeless.
Harry told me e was from Kansas City, then had to leave (he declined to tell me why). He first landed in New Orleans, where he squatted with a few other people in an abandoned building. New Orleans attracts a lot of homeless these days, he told me, because ever since Katrina there are a lot of empty buildings. I told him how I lived in NOLA quite a few years ago for a short period (mid-1980’s) and that I was actually very near being without a place to call home at the time, and that it was the first and only time I was truly hungry (and somewhat scared).
He then headed up here, to NY where he is sleeping outside a building on the lower east side. We talked briefly about his safety and he was concerned, but where he sleeps now is pretty safe, he said. He also said that he was just going through a rough patch right now, but he’ll be ok. After a bit more talk we shook hands and parted. I went to a Thai restaurant while Harry ate his dinner on the street. And as I ate the food didn’t taste as good as it usually does. Not that the restaurant was at fault…I stop here whenever I’m in NYC, and it was as good as usual. It’s just that I couldn’t stop thinking about Harry. I hope he is warm tonight, because as I type these words it is raining outside

Urban Simplicity.

This is Bob…

This is Bob (Bob Dendy to be exact…sorta like dandy only with an “e,” he told me). Just when I thought I’ve met every eccentric person in Allentown along comes Bob…wearing striped shorts, wide tie, suspenders, colorful sneakers, and socks pulled up tight. I was out doing one of my favorite pastimes (though I haven’t in a while)…going out for a few beers and taking photos of my eclectic neighborhood. Anyhow, I had a beer and was waiting for the light to change as my favorite time to take photos is but there is still light in the sky which gives it a lovely blue hue (hence it’s designation). And there I was, a pint of beer in my belly and feeling somewhat stunned from lack of sleep, setting up my tripod, when I hear, “Hello…hi…what are you doing?” It was Bob. He was carrying a milk-crate full of stuff and told me he was an educator. When I asked who he educated he told me anyone who would listen. So I listened; I love to hear peoples stories. It turns out Bob is from Toronto; apparently grew up there and here. When I asked if I could take his photo he darted in front of the camera, “Well if you want to. Just tell me what to do.” And when I asked him if he would hold his crate of stuff he grabbed it and said, “Oh, now you want to make it real.” We talked for about 20 minutes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It turns out there are a lot of coincidences in our lives. When we parted and shook hands I could tell by the callouses on his hands that he has lived a life of hard work. He never did tell me what he taught, but I learned a few things from him. I learned (or at least remembered), that everyone has a story, and this is what I find fascinating. I declined his offer to stop by his place for a beer (turns out I know the person that owns the house he lives in), but nonetheless, people like Bob are what keep life interesting, at least for me.

Urban Simplicity.

This is Bob…

This is Bob (Bob Dendy to be exact…sorta like dandy only with an “e,” he told me). Just when I thought I’ve met every eccentric person in Allentown along comes Bob…wearing striped shorts, wide tie, suspenders, colorful sneakers, and socks pulled up tight. I was out doing one of my favorite pastimes (though I haven’t in a while)…going out for a few beers and taking photos of my eclectic neighborhood. Anyhow, I had a beer and was waiting for the light to change as my favorite time to take photos is but there is still light in the sky which gives it a lovely blue hue (hence it’s designation). And there I was, a pint of beer in my belly and feeling somewhat stunned from lack of sleep, setting up my tripod, when I hear, “Hello…hi…what are you doing?” It was Bob. He was carrying a milk-crate full of stuff and told me he was an educator. When I asked who he educated he told me anyone who would listen. So I listened; I love to hear peoples stories. It turns out Bob is from Toronto; apparently grew up there and here. When I asked if I could take his photo he darted in front of the camera, “Well if you want to. Just tell me what to do.” And when I asked him if he would hold his crate of stuff he grabbed it and said, “Oh, now you want to make it real.” We talked for about 20 minutes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It turns out there are a lot of coincidences in our lives. When we parted and shook hands I could tell by the callouses on his hands that he has lived a life of hard work. He never did tell me what he taught, but I learned a few things from him. I learned (or at least remembered), that everyone has a story, and this is what I find fascinating. I declined his offer to stop by his place for a beer (turns out I know the person that owns the house he lives in), but nonetheless, people like Bob are what keep life interesting, at least for me.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or Eight Quotes from Harvey Milk…

May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978

“All men are created equal. Now matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”

 “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you…And you…And you…Gotta give em hope.” 

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

“Politics is theater. It doesn’t matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, “I’m here, pay attention to me”

“Hope is never silent.”

“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!”

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”

“Let me have my tax money go for my protection and not for my prosecution. Let my tax money go for the protection of me. Protect my home, protect my streets, protect my car, protect my life, protect my property…worry about becoming a human being and not about how you can prevent others from enjoying their lives because of your own inability to adjust to life.” 

Urban Simplicity. 

More in the Five Quote Series.

 

Five or Eight Quotes from Harvey Milk…

May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978
.

“All men are created equal. Now matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”

 “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you…And you…And you…Gotta give em hope.” 

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

“Politics is theater. It doesn’t matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, “I’m here, pay attention to me”

“Hope is never silent.”

“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!”

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”

“Let me have my tax money go for my protection and not for my prosecution. Let my tax money go for the protection of me. Protect my home, protect my streets, protect my car, protect my life, protect my property…worry about becoming a human being and not about how you can prevent others from enjoying their lives because of your own inability to adjust to life.” 

Urban Simplicity. 

More in the Five Quote Series.

Mului…and a few other people

So first some brief introduction. Pictured above is three-quarters of our motley kitchen crew. From left-to-right: Adam, Elizabeth, myself, Mului, and Senait (absent are Dylan, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan). And even though this post is essentially about Mului, it is really–in the broader picture–about humanity. But I’m jumping ahead.

You may remember Mului from this Go Fund Me campaign I posted a little more than a year ago. I was trying to raise money to get him a bike. I had anticipated the campaign to take about a month…it took 20 minutes! No joke. I had to cut it off. The outpouring of human gratitude at the time quite literally brought tears to my eyes, and as I recall it now it still does.

I first met Mului through the International Institute of Buffalo when they assisted him in securing a job. Mului, along with Senait, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan are all from Eritrea, that small country just above Ethiopia. Over the years we’ve also employed people from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, the Congo, and Tanzania. As far as I know all of them had been refugees. And their personal stories are incredible moving. It took Mului, for example, 5 attempts to cross the barren Sahara before he finally made it to a refugee camp in Israel. He nearly died and indeed lost family members along the way, either to the harsh dessert conditions of land pirates.

When Mului started with us he barely spoke English, but over the past year-and-a-half this has improved immensely. And during this time he has–on a dishwasher’s salary–supported his wife and two children. Over this time he had really become part of our kitchen family. So it was bittersweet the other day when we snapped this photo…it was on his last day of work with us. He has recently landed a factory job which nearly doubled his hourly pay. Before leaving he gave us plenty of notice and even found us his replacement and trained her.

Coincidentally, the factory in which Mului is now employed is also the same factory that for a while employed my father, who was the eldest first born son to immigrant parents. That was more than 40 years ago and, on the weekends when my dad would work extra hours cleaning, he would bring me with him on occasion to the factory. I have vague memories of following my dad around the stuffy factory offices on hot summer Sunday afternoons.

The reason I mention this is that we as Americans are often proud to proclaim our ethnicity and our family heritage–romanticizing what our parents and grandparents went through and where they hailed from–but at the same time sometimes shun the current wave of immigrants. Most American cities have ethnic neighborhoods and in Buffalo the most diverse these days is the West Side…Grant Street, for example, is lined with shops and restaurants offering goods and foods from the Far East and all points in Africa, and English certainly is the “second language” at times.

Ethnically speaking, I myself am Lebanese and German (with some French, I recently found out). But it is the Lebanese side that I have often Identified with. Mostly I think, because when I was a kid it was like something out of the movies (of course I didn’t think that then, but now I view it through Rockwellian rose-colored glasses). My dad and his brothers and sisters and all their families would congregate at our sitti’s house (grandmother’s house). There were tons of kids, my aunts were always in the kitchen, the table was always full, and the adults spoke Arabic more than they did English.

And this is what I see when I look at these newly arrived refugees. All that I have met and employed have been hard workers and extremely polite. They all are family oriented. They love to talk to me about their food. And they are all striving to earn American citizenship that I myself arrogantly take for granted. A simple Google search will reveal the very real reasons why they risk their lives to get inside our borders. In parallel, I suppose it is not unlike the reasons my family did the same thing about 100 years ago when the border was finally opened after the Famine of Mount Lebanon.

This–the current wave of immigrants–is being called the “browning of America,” and I personally find the diversity exciting. And I know right now there is some white guy reading this and getting a little nervous. Ok, here’s something else…it’s predicted that within less than 30 years white folks will be the minority in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Yup true. And I also find this inspiring. I’m inspired when I look at the people, and talk to them, and hear their stories. But mostly I am inspired by their work ethic and family values. These are the faces of the future Americans. Mului tells me his older daughter already prefers to “speak American.,” even to her parents.

And so, while this post is about Mului, it’s also about humanity as a whole. We are one people, and whether we all like it or not, we also come in all different colors and speak many different languages, but we are still part of the same human race. So on this day, the day that this photo was taken, it was bittersweet. We were all happy for Mului because of his financial advancement, but we were also sorry to see him go.

Urban Simplicity.

Mului…and a few other people


So first some brief introduction. Pictured above is three-quarters of our motley kitchen crew. From left-to-right: Adam, Elizabeth, myself, Mului, and Senait (absent are Dylan, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan). And even though this post is essentially about Mului, it is really–in the broader picture–about humanity. But I’m jumping ahead.

You may remember Mului from this Go Fund Me campaign I posted a little more than a year ago. I was trying to raise money to get him a bike. I had anticipated the campaign to take about a month…it took 20 minutes! No joke. I had to cut it off. The outpouring of human gratitude at the time quite literally brought tears to my eyes, and as I recall it now it still does.

I first met Mului through the International Institute of Buffalo when they assisted him in securing a job. Mului, along with Senait, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan are all from Eritrea, that small country just above Ethiopia. Over the years we’ve also employed people from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, the Congo, and Tanzania. As far as I know all of them had been refugees. And their personal stories are incredibly moving. It took Mului, for example, 5 attempts to cross the barren Sahara before he finally made it to a refugee camp in Israel. He nearly died and indeed lost family members along the way, either to the harsh dessert conditions or land pirates.

When Mului started with us he barely spoke English, but over the past year-and-a-half this has improved immensely. And during this time he has–on a dishwasher’s salary–supported his wife and two children. Over this time he had really become part of our kitchen family. So it was bittersweet the other day when we snapped this photo…it was on his last day of work with us. He has recently landed a factory job which nearly doubled his hourly pay. Before leaving he gave us plenty of notice and even found us his replacement and trained her.

Coincidentally, the factory in which Mului is now employed is also the same factory that for a while employed my father, who was the eldest first born son to immigrant parents. That was more than 40 years ago and, on the weekends when my dad would work extra hours cleaning, he would bring me with him on occasion to the factory. I have vague memories of following my dad around the stuffy factory offices on hot summer Sunday afternoons.

The reason I mention this is that we as Americans are often proud to proclaim our ethnicity and our family heritage–romanticizing what our parents and grandparents went through and where they hailed from–but at the same time sometimes shun the current wave of immigrants. Most American cities have ethnic neighborhoods and in Buffalo the most diverse these days is the West Side…Grant Street, for example, is lined with shops and restaurants offering goods and foods from the Far East and all points in Africa, and English certainly is the “second language” at times.

Ethnically speaking, I myself am Lebanese and German (with some French, I recently found out). But it is the Lebanese side that I have often Identified with. Mostly I think, because when I was a kid it was like something out of the movies (of course I didn’t think that then, but now I view it through Rockwellian rose-colored glasses). My dad and his brothers and sisters and all their families would congregate at our sitti’s house (grandmother’s house). There were tons of kids, my aunts were always in the kitchen, the table was always full, and the adults spoke Arabic more than they did English.

And this is what I see when I look at these newly arrived refugees. All that I have met and employed have been hard workers and extremely polite. They all are family oriented. They love to talk to me about their food. And they are all striving to earn American citizenship that I myself arrogantly take for granted. A simple Google search will reveal the very real reasons why they risk their lives to get inside our borders. In parallel, I suppose it is not unlike the reasons my family did the same thing about 100 years ago when the border was finally opened after the Famine of Mount Lebanon.

This current wave of immigrants is being called the “browning of America,” and I personally find the diversity exciting. And I know right now there is some white guy reading this and getting a little nervous. Ok, here’s something else…it’s predicted that within less than 30 years white folks will be the minority in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Yup true. And I also find this inspiring. I’m inspired when I look at the people, and talk to them, and hear their stories. But mostly I am inspired by their work ethic and family values. These are the faces of the future Americans. Mului tells me his older daughter already prefers to “speak American.,” even to her parents.

And so, while this post is about Mului, it’s also about humanity as a whole. We are one people, and whether we all like it or not, we also come in all different colors and speak many different languages, but we are still part of the same human race. So on this day, the day that this photo was taken, it was bittersweet. We were all happy for Mului because of his financial advancement, but we were also sorry to see him go. Good luck friend!

Urban Simplicity.

W.I.B.

Silence can be so powerful. These are just a few of the Women in Black (click here or here). Every Saturday they are there. Rain. Sleet. Snow. Bitter cold. Hot sun. They are there. 

And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.
  

Simon and Garfunkel

The Sound of Silence


Urban Simplicity.

W.I.B.

Silence can be so powerful. These are just a few of the Women in Black (click here or here). Every Saturday they are there. Rain. Sleet. Snow. Bitter cold. Hot sun. They are there. 

And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.
  

  
Simon and Garfunkel
The Sound of Silence 

Urban Simplicity.