You’ve seen me. I’m the man standing at the intersection holding a small, poorly written message on a cardboard sign. I’m the woman peering into your window at the stop light, hoping you will reach out your hand and drop some change into mine. Most people don’t even have the decency to look me directly in the eye. Are you frightened of me? Are you so engrossed in your own personal world that you don’t notice me? Or, is it something else? Has the cold reality of indifference permeated the very fiber of every human being not sleeping on the streets?
I understand you don’t know me. You see me as a complete stranger, begging for money or cigarettes. Granted, there are some who wander around mooching off others simply because they lack the desire to wake up every morning and go into work. Having figured out that wearing old, dirty clothes and not bathing for days may earn them sympathy, they become actors, living a lie. Maybe it’s their deception that has tainted the views of an uncaring society. Like everything else, we are branded with a stereotype that may very well seal our destiny. It’s the “If you’ve seen one beggar, you’ve seen them all” mentality. I urge you, no, I implore you to hear me out. Let these words sink through your hardened exterior and into the cracks of a soul that yearns to believe in the good of humanity.
I once had a great life. I was married with two kids. I was blessed with an amazing job that took me around the world to see places I could never have dreamed of visiting. It’s easy to take everything for granted when life is going so well. The reality is that nothing lasts forever, and the rug can be yanked out at any moment. We go through life feeling invincible, that all of our hopes and dreams are waiting patiently at the end of our fingertips. I worked hard for the things I used to have. I fought to keep them in my life, but sometimes, giving everything we have is just simply not enough. The darkness I endured for several years took its toll, leaving me with nothing I could call my own, except for the dirt on the soles of my worn out shoes.
You see, I served my country for many years. I fought battles in a war raging thousands of miles away from the comfort and safety of my home. I witnessed the worst humanity has to offer, and sometimes the best. The nightmares are relentless, and I fear they will follow me to my grave. I’ve watched men, women, and children die in the arms of brutal violence with no meaning. Brave men and women sacrificed their lives for complete strangers, and never gave it a second thought. They were my brothers and sisters. They had become my family. When I returned from the horrors of war, I found there wasn’t a place for me here anymore. I felt like an outcast, an alien in a foreign land. When I should have been welcomed home as a hero who served his country with pride and dedication, I was thrown to the curb. I lost everything.
The stress of living with a damaged vet was too much for my wife. She took both kids and left me. I couldn’t find a job. I was told to get therapy, but no one would help pay for it. So I sat in an empty house, while the world kept on turning, wondering why I was even alive. Deep down, the memories of my fallen brothers urged me to shake off self pity, and earn the life their sacrifice had purchased. I just didn’t have anything left that resembled hope. When the bank took my house, I had no choice but to leave with nothing but the clothes on my back. I thank God there are still homeless shelters available for temporary living quarters. Mostly though, I’m alone on the streets with nothing but hopelessness and a small sign.
I stare into the eyes of strangers hoping someone will give me a chance. As I lay awake on the sidewalk under the blanket of a cardboard box, I ask God why. Why doesn’t anyone care about those of us who are struggling? Why can’t we ever seem to catch a break? Why has society turned their backs on the less fortunate, and instead they chase after luxury cars and over-spacious homes? With blood and tears, I fought for the very freedoms they take for granted. Yet, I am looked upon as nothing more than a homeless beggar. A citizen from the underbelly of this great nation I lost everything for.
The next time you see someone standing at the intersection holding a cardboard sign, remember this letter. That person might be a mother or father. They are someone’s son or daughter.
Maybe they are like me, a veteran who has no home. A man who has no hope.