I passed her at a quick-march, headed toward a CVS store on my way to the subway.
She stood nearly motionless on the far edge of the sidewalk to my right, close to the street, facing crowds rising up from the subway, singing “Oh, Holy Night” in a richly dark, controlled soprano, her deliberate pace a sharp contrast to the sidewalk bustle.
Bundled against December wind and cold – thick mittens, torso wrapped in a calf-length, dark green winter coat, its hood drawn up over her head, a gray wool scarf wrapped around her neck and her chin, she revealed only a triangle of skin from her lips to her eye brows..
… but her voice was so intense and clear that I could hear it deep inside the CVS. “Oh, Holy Night…”
CVS bag in hand, on my way to the subway escalator, I paused to push a couple of dollars through the raggedly cut square hole in her scuffed, tape-sealed card board box.
As I slipped the dollars into her box, I made eye contact and said, “Your voice is beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she said, and continued singing.
As I turned away and escalatored down toward the subway, her voice followed me. 40 feet below street level, I could still hear her.
When I reached the first landing, I paused, listened, then turned and rode up toward the street. She saw me coming out of the station; her eyes followed me as I approached. I smiled, wordless, and slipped a substantially larger contribution into the ragged square opening.
“I really appreciate you,” she said softly. “Thank you.”
I leaned toward her. “For whom do you sing?”
“For my community center,” she replied, “and the kids we take care of.”
Later, a friend asked, “Why did you go back? You’ve passed many singers without second looks… or contributions.”
Professional courtesy? Awe?
While her voice was extraordinary, I was drawn back by her courage and resolve – feet planted; body quiet, leaning slightly against the wind; the deep, undistracted intensity in her song conveying the strength of her commitment… and an appeal for attention I could not ignore.
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