Someone said that we can give alms by giving away seconds of our day.
Time is commodified—each second is a second to be earning.
And that, actually, we can give away our perishable treasure—not gold or silver (in this economy, let’s be honest, who has much of those anyway? Our treasure’s become less vulnerable to moths and mold and more liquid, slick, and digital)—but time.
For example, almsgiving is putting away the phone and looking at the people around me: a gift of attention I am too stingy with—I have business to attend to, articles to read, directions to look up, other people I could speak to. But using those minutes instead to look someone in the eye: maybe say hello (probably not in New York), or ask the barista how she’s doing, looking at her eyes and not a screen.
Almsgiving is holding open a door, someone said. You can’t get back those moments you stand, waiting for the other person to limp through. It’s a surrendering of the rhythm of your walking—allowing interruption. It’s letting the pattern of your day get distracted and muddled, because you are re-ordering it around your neighbor, love of whom is the goal of all this bustle anyway.
Ever since someone said that—a radical suggestion, really—when someone opens a door for me, I find myself struck speechless, on account of the sheer gratuity of courtesy being profligately given away. They offer up a moment they will never get back—this day, this second, this small moment—to do a small service form me.
Thank you, I respond. But it’s not quite enough. They hold open the door in order to interrupt the pattern of my day, to halt the stomp-stomp of my clipping down 7th avenue to wait a moment for someone else.