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I met a homeless man in front of the post office the other day. He was sitting on the sidewalk, his back against the brick wall. It was a bitterly cold day. He was dressed well enough--jeans, clean work boots, a parka, a warm hat--but he was shivering as he tried to write the words, "Homeless, Please Help Me," on a piece of cardboard with a thick, black felt-tip pen nearly out of ink or frozen solid. His beard was caked with icicles, his cheeks were red, and his eyelids crinkled, just like the Salvation Army Santa ringing the bell over on Broadway.

Sometimes, a person down on their luck in the city gives me pause, literally. I stop and look at them, I observe, and I force myself to think of what it must be like to be in such a predicament. I proceed to take what the Buddhists call "right action."

I was headed to the Housing Works thrift shop that day with a giveaway bag of clothing. I pulled out a woolen shirt from the bag. My husband had recently liberated it from his full-to-overflowing closet. How many shirts do we need? And there was also a book by Graham Greene, "Ministry of Fear," I had finished but wasn't planning to read again. (I only keep books I think I'll read again. I'm rarely mistaken.)

I began to chat to the young man who was from Portland, in trouble with the law, and as soon as he told me this he began to cry because he missed his 10 and 11 year old sons. I handed him the shirt which he held to his chest like a security blanket as we talked some more. He thanked me, he thanked me, and he thanked me. Then I asked him if he liked to read to which he answered "yes," in a bold and confident voice. And so I also gave him the book which he slipped into his backpack.

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