The Circle Unbroken

Open School night was a few days ago and I was marveling at the absurdity of it all as I rattled home through the subway tunnels, a hundred feet beneath the vast ghetto that lies between my work and my bedroom.

“Animals in a cage,” I thought as I looked around at the other frowning faces on the train. “All of us.”

At one particularly desolate stop, the doors opened with the usual series of atonal bells and a bent little figure shuffled in, pushing a cart in front of her. Her old voice strained as it sang.

By and by Lord, by and by…”

Feebly, she then announced, “Anything you could put in the cup sure would be a blessin’.” Her curved spine launched her words directly onto the floor. “And if you don’t have, then I’ll help you with your blessin’.”

She shuffled up to me and stopped. Her back forced her to look at my shoes as she said, “Baby boy, anything you could put in the cup sure would be a blessin’.”

I don’t give my money to just anyone who asks for it. This city has hardened me to that. Also, it’s not a good way to get out of debt. But mostly, I feel like “I gave at the office,” and generously. But this lady moved me. Maybe it was the time of night, or her age, or her song. I don’t know, but I wanted to help her. But I couldn’t, because I spent my last dollar buying a damn donut at stupid Open School night.

“I don’t have anything today, ma’am,” I said.

She was still looking at the floor as she held out an oily dollar bill that looked like a handkerchief in her shaking hand.

“Then take this,” she said softly.

“No-No.” I said, a bit embarrassed.

“It’s only a blessing,” she replied.

For a moment I wasn’t sure how to respond, but there was no way I was taking that dollar. “I’ll take the blessing, ma’am, but you keep the dollar. I want you to have it.”

She palmed the bill slowly, and then shuffled on down the aisle. And she continued to sing.

By and by Lord, by and by…”

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4 Responses to The Circle Unbroken

  1. G Bob says:


  2. Brittany says:

    beautiful. thanks for the fire and the stories.

  3. markpenny says:

    I’m with G Bob. Nice little slice of deep urban life–and just plain humanity. I also like the song and the album I first heard it on.

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