Yesterday morning I gave some coins to a beggar on the subway. After saying no to thousands like him, yesterday I was moved to give. And he didn't have a sob story--he was rather soft-spoken, really, "God Bless Everybody", he said. "Sorry to bother you." He was a man, maybe a little older than I am, maybe my age, barely asking, though not ashamed. And it was the softness--of his voice, his tread, and his reluctance to intrude, that pushed me, almost immediately, into my purse for change.
Movies have ruined me for vociferous suffering.
In 2000 I stayed at my grandmother's house in Dayton, Ohio for a long weekend before I moved to South America for a year. It was a goodbye visit. My grandmother had, by then, been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the disease that would finally end what had been a difficult last chapter. By this point she was completely without her short term memory. I remember riding in a car with both my grandparents in Chicago during the previous year:
"Where are we going?" my grandmother asked.
"To Debra's house." My grandfather responded. Pause. Inhale--Exhale.
"Where are we going?" my grandmother asked again.
"To Debra's house for dinner."
And on and on and on during the ninety minute car ride. Eventually I started making up responses:
"To the beach, Nanny. We're going to Jamaica."
"To Renaissance Italy. We're going to luncheon with the Medicis!" My grandfather was not amused by my tactics. He thought I was not being fair to her, by keeping her in the dark:
"She's in the dark, Papa," I said. "There's nothing you can do about it. You may as well do what you can to keep yourself from going crazy."
But anyway, that was before the cancer.
One night, during this goodbye visit to Dayton, I heard my grandmother walking around the house screaming, "The pain! The pain! The pain!" She was holding her ribs, grasping at the walls. It all seemed very dramatic to me, a bit 1970s Bette Davis. I said as much to my Aunt Kathy:
"She's dying, Ilana," she said. "It probably hurts."
Sometimes I suspect that I am such an asshole.