This was taken about halfway up the block on the east side of Broadway, between 79th and 80th Street. It's at the north end of the "Filene's Basement" store on the corner, and it's a place where I've often seen homeless people holding up a sign that asks for assistance... With very rare exceptions, I haven't photographed these homeless people; it seems to me that they're in a very defensive situation, and I don't want to take advantage of their situation. But something unusual was happening here: the two women (who were actually cooperating, and acting in tandem, despite the rather negative demeanor of the woman on the left) were giving several parcels of food to the young homeless man on the right. I don't know if the women were bringing food from their own kitchen, or whether they had brought it from a nearby restaurant. But it was obviously a conscious, deliberate activity, and one they had thousght about for some time... What was particularly interesting was that they didn't dwell, didn't try to have a conversation with the young man;they gave him they food they had brought, and promptly walked away. As they left, I noticed the young man peering into his bag (the one you see on the ground beside him in this picture) to get a better sense of the delicious meal these two kind women had brought him... ********************** This is part of an evolving photo-project, which will probably continue throughout the summer of 2008, and perhaps beyond: a random collection of "interesting" people in a broad stretch of the Upper West Side of Manhattan -- between 72nd Street and 104th Street, especially along Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. I don't like to intrude on people's privacy, so I normally use a telephoto lens in order to photograph them while they're still 50-100 feet away from me; but that means I have to continue focusing my attention on the people and activities half a block away, rather than on what's right in front of me. I've also learned that, in many cases, the opportunities for an interesting picture are very fleeting -- literally a matter of a couple of seconds, before the person(s) in question move on, turn away, or stop doing whatever was interesting. So I've learned to keep the camera switched on (which contradicts my traditional urge to conserve battery power), and not worry so much about zooming in for a perfectly-framed picture ... after all, once the digital image is uploaded to my computer, it's pretty trivial to crop out the parts unrelated to the main subject. For the most part, I've deliberately avoided photographing bums, drunks, drunks, and crazy people. There are a few of them around, and they would certainly create some dramatic pictures; but they generally don't want to be photographed, and I don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of them. I'm still looking for opportunities to take some "sympathetic" pictures of such people, which might inspire others to reach out and help them. We'll see how it goes ... The only other thing I've noticed, thus far, is that while there are lots of interesting people to photograph, there are far, far, *far* more people who are *not* so interesting. They're probably fine people, and they might even be more interesting than the ones I've photographed ... but there was just nothing memorable about them.

On Sunday mornings when the offertory plate is passed through the pews, our pastor reminds us that we are to be joyful givers. I always found this term, “joyful”, to be out of place. How could letting go of my personal possessions – money – be a “joyful” activity? I give because I know the church needs funds to pay the bills, has some foreign missionaries and I feel guilty if I don’t “share the wealth”.

It has taken me a while but I’ve come to realize that learning to give is a process that we go through. Just as a caterpillar goes through metamorphosis to become a butterfly, so too we humans need to develop into people who enjoy giving. Here are the phases that I had to pass through before I was able to become a joyful giver:

  • Want: The first phase was all about me. What were the material things that I wanted and how could I get them? This phase has no room for any type of giving because it is all based on taking. I justified this phase because I was young, was working hard and earning a good salary. I needed to buy a nice car, furniture, clothing and enjoy nice vacations. Nothing else mattered.
  • Need: Soon I found myself married with three children that I was responsible for. It was no longer just about me. Now others had needs and wants and were looking to me to satisfy them. I started to think about “our” future and realized that the future would cost a lot of money: private school, college, sports, vacations, insurance policies and a bigger house. I had to save money to be ready for all of the things that were coming my way. With all these costs and trying to save, I didn’t have much left over to give away.
  • Give: Moving to the next phase takes either a lot of passion for a good cause or a spiritual awakening. I took the spiritual awakening path. If you don’t have a spiritual faith, this might be difficult to understand. If you do, then you will understand that there is a higher power that we worship and this takes the focus off of “me” and puts it on someone or something else. For me it was Christ. And being a Christ follower I’ve learned that all of my blessings come from Him and really belong to Him. So it really isn’t my “stuff” but its His. I’m just a steward of His possessions.
  • Joyful Giving: Joyful giving requires a mindset change. You come to realize that you are very blessed and that these blessings don’t belong to you and that you can’t take them with you when you pass away. You also experience joy by seeing the impact that your giving has on another person. Some of the first experiences I had of this joy were giving presents to homeless children at Christmas or serving Thanksgiving dinner at a prison.

Giving doesn’t have to be financial. It can take many different forms, depending on how we are blessed and what season of life we find ourselves in. Financial giving is one way and often times the easiest way. For many people it is easy and non-committal to write a check and not be bothered anymore. However, adding another “0” onto the check might change the comfort level a bit!

Other ways of giving are with our time or our talents. Spending time with people in a retirement home or reading books to inner city children might be a great way to give of yourself. If you have a skill that can help others, then this would be another form of giving. A lawyer can offer some of his time pro bono; a mom could cook a meal for a family in need. A dad could coach a little league team.

  • The final phase of joyful giving: This is a really tough phase to enter into. It is the anonymous phase and it is realized when you are able to give without receiving any kind of recognition: no name on a building, no platinum donor recognition, not even a thank you. You are invisible and no one knows you have given except for your creator. This type of giving is built on faith alone.

My biggest wish is that my children would understand that giving is not only expected of us but that it is good and it brings real joy. Hopefully I’ve been able to role model this for them.