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  • "Pleeeeease, help the homeless," the voice says, breaking in the middle, weak and tired, pleading.

    "Pleeeeeeeeaaaaase help the homeless." It is a refrain, a mantra, and it is a central experience of living in my city, of going on public transportation- something I do every day.

    Today, it was a woman on the train home. "Pleeeeeeeeeeeease," she says, "help the homeless," and a little bit of a question enters her voice. "A sandwich or some change, please help me." She is broken. She sounds weak. The corners of her mouth turn down- hunger, sadness, frustration, fatigue, a depletion of the supply of energy that was used up long ago. She has been diminished. She has been reduced. "Help the homeless, a sandwich or some change, please help me, help the homeless." Now she equates herself with the community- the condition?- at large.

    "Help the homeless," and today I do, though I don't know how far you are willing to stretch the word help.

    "Sorry- can I offer you my sandwich? Sorry, it's all I have today, I'm sorry." She takes my sandwich- my measly sandwich- my sandwich that I had not eaten today at lunch because I was not hungry.

    Because I was not hungry. The whole world should have such a problem. If only.

    I apologize profusely, and anyway, it's a lie.- that's not all I have- I have a home, I have a family and a bed and a coat, I will not go hungry. It's true- the sandwich is the only food I have to give her today.

    But it is not, by any means, all I have.

    I will not make a difference in this woman's life. Maybe it will fill a fraction of her stomach, but it will not fill her, in any sense of the word. I will not make a difference in her life.
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