I was riding the subway to work when a homeless man walks in and begins to sing. He had this deep baritone melodic voice. I didn’t look up, though I enjoyed the sound of his voice. Subway rides are reserved for brainstorming while I attempt to beat my 999 line Tetris score. Nothing personal. It’s just… I’m full of noise and demands all the live long day. Commutes are my time.
Following his song he asked us all for money. Repeatedly. And everyone ignored him. Pleas were interspersed with song, lines of poetry, or bits of musical history. He was eloquent in speech, which lead me to believe that at some point he wasn’t always homeless. He lost his way somehow.
I dug in my pockets and pulled out change, in the same way my grandma taught me. Always reserve change for the homeless, she said. You never know what blessings may come your way.
“Help a man who subsists in the subway system”, he pleaded.
He used the word subsist.
The last thing he said: “Not everyone who’s homeless is an idiot. You may think that, but that isn’t always the case. I am just a homeless poet, that’s all”. Finally our eyes met, I beckoned him over, and handed him some change. He thanked me; spoke to me for a few seconds. I wished him a good day, smiled, and went back to my Tetris game. We reached the next stop where he got off to go to the next car. Suddenly I heard him yell “DON’T CLOSE THE DOOR! DON’T CLOSE THE DOOR SIR!”
And he hands ME a dollar. He tells me this is his lucky dollar. He’s never spent it, will never spend it, and he wanted ME to have it – Because I was a good person, who gave him money from the heart. And no matter how much I shook my head he refused to take his dollar back. And this guy clearly needed it. So I put in it my purse to pass along to some other homeless person in need in the hopes the dollar is indeed lucky.
It has been days since and I can’t get that moment out of my head.
Not many people know this, but I know what it is like to be homeless.
To be uprooted from the home you’ve known all your life.
To take only what you can carry.
To see an eviction notice on your door.
To lose all traces of yourself.
To not have one baby picture.
To face danger when you’ve been sheltered in more ways than one all your life.
To make choices, whatever those were, right or wrong, moral or immoral, to ensure your survival.
To be and feel alone.
I know the fear. It’s paralyzing. I wasn’t on drugs, I didn’t lose my way, I didn’t sell my body for money. I lost my home, the only home I’d ever known. I lost my family through circumstances well beyond my control at a young age. It forced me to grow the fuck up, to seek inner strength. I am the strongest person I know. And it’s because I didn’t have an option. I had to take a path that wasn’t of my choosing. Thankfully I was saved from that, coincidentally during a holiday season, and though I remain scarred from the experience, it strengthened me.
I pass homeless people daily on my way to work. I offer them money, I make inquiries on their wellbeing, and I wish them a good day. I smile. They could use smiles. This season in addition to volunteering my services at a local food pantry, I plan to bake a few loaves of this Cranberry Orange Banana bread to hand out. It’s moist, delicious, and perfect for the season. It is a small display of compassion to people long forgotten; a small display of humanity to those we pass every single day without a second thought. To men, women, and children, whose circumstances led them there; to sleep in the streets out in the cold, barren rooms, or poorly run shelters.
I urge you to show compassion this holiday season. We are fortunate, despite hardships, we are damn fortunate. Sometimes we just forget how fortunate we are. And we need to remind ourselves often. Bake a lil’ somethin’. Hell, bake this lil’ somethin’ and distribute with a smile.
Volunteer this holiday season.
Don’t forget: We are all human.
- 1 1/2 cup of all purpose flour, spooned then leveled
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 3 to 4 very ripe bananas, smashed
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 3/4 light brown sugar, packed
- 1 heaping tablespoon orange zest
- Juice of 1 orange
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1 cup dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour 5x9 in loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. You can also use a smaller sized loaf pan. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.
In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add mashed bananas, or if you’re lazy like me, let the machine mash them on medium speed. Add the melted butter to the bananas.
Mix in the sugar, beaten egg, orange zest, orange juice vanilla extract and rum. Reduce the speed of the machine to low.
On low speed, add the flour mixture and mix just until moistened. You should still see dry flour bits.
Fold in the cranberries with a spatula just until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix. Pour mixture into a buttered loaf pan.
Bake for 1 hour, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Be sure to test other areas of the loaf to make sure. I inserted a toothpick and mistakenly poked bananas which remain wet even after baking.
Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, and then cool on a rack. Slice, and enjoy.
Cooking time (duration): 10 minute prep, plus 1 hour bake time