New York, October 26, 2008

Dear A.,

Thank you for joining me last Sunday for a chat at my HOMU booth on the Bowery, next to the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

In our conversation, you mentioned that, at 45, you are already feeling like you have reached the "autumn of your life." You also expressed your confusion about the fact that, despite your always "doing good," God had not rewarded you. You added that your church, the nearby Bowery Mission (which you had just visited for food and spiritual guidance), had pronounced you a "sinner" for smoking cigarettes. Throughout our talk, you kept asking me, "What am I to do?" I had no ready answer for you.

Since our encounter, I have been thinking a lot about you and your predicament of being homeless and lonely in New York City, and the fact that I left you bereft of an answer to your pressing question. Today, I want to reach out to you with some of the thoughts and concerns I've had in your regard.

It is clear that you are currently at a loss, feeling that life has been unfair to you and yearning for someone to tell you exactly what to do. Instead of letting someone else dictate what is right for you, why don't you start by asking yourself what YOU would LIKE to do? Maybe you are tired of trying to do the right thing, especially since it hasn't brought you anywhere. Maybe you are tempted to let yourself completely fall, like others who live on the street. Depending on your luck and the mercy of strangers, you might get by for a while. But in the long run, you would be prone to severe health risks, become an easy target for crime, and your chances of survival would be very dim. Sooner or later, you might tragically end up at the city morgue, like Don, whose story is so vividly profiled on the website of the Bowery Mission. You may also, heaven forbid, reach a point where you decide to end it all prematurely. "There's always the A train," as the late Marcia Tucker dryly wrote in her memoir, A Short Life of Trouble, referring to a low point in her life where she pondered the option of suicide. She eventually went on to become the founder and director of the New Museum.

If, on the other hand, you feel like you still have something to contribute to this world, there is hope. But "doing good" will not be enough. You must find something to do that others will honor and value. I cannot tell you what that might be, and it may take you several humbling trials and errors until you figure it out, but I think it's worth a try for you to reach into whatever energy you have left and apply it to that sole purpose.

According to you, you have been trying to find solace in the teachings of your church. Forgive me if I remark that your Christian faith doesn't seem to have helped you a great deal. Maybe solace and prayer are not what you need right now. Maybe it's time to take action. To quote Marcia Tucker again: "Act first, think later -- that way you have something to think about."


Filip Noterdaeme
Director, HOMU