I watched him struggle to light a match. His hands were shivering. Maybe it was the cold. Or maybe it was the drink. His face was worn and leathery. The wrinkles and fold told a story of street life or maybe just the harshness of his reality. He exhaled into the winter air and rejoiced in a simple moment of solitude.
It’s been raining nonstop all day. My heart is still heavy with all that is going on..but I know that there is so much more to do. I see this scene every day in a city filled with the haves and the have nots. His sign says he is an out of work plumber and a war veteran. His face in his hands says more. It speaks of the troubles of years passed and the countless questions without answers. I want to believe that tomorrow can be better……better for all of us. I want to hope for something different. It’s why I get up each day with resolve and determination despite the rain and dark clouds.
Years ago I volunteered with an organization trying to raise awareness about homelessness. I spent time talking to people that called the harsh New York streets home. People that found sanctuary in alley ways, in front of churches, in bus or subway stations and just about any place that provided a little warmth in the colder months. They told me their stories of former lives….stories about families lost..about a time when things were different. There were stories of unspeakable tragedies and dreams lost to the bottle. Some just couldn’t deal with the hand that life dealt them and others couldn’t deal with what they saw in war. It was the veterans that had the most lasting effect on me. They served this country and the battle continued when they got back home. It’s Veteran’s day and as we celebrate our heroes I know we can do more for them. I know that we need to do more for them. We will never forget the wars that they fought and we should never forget them when they return home.
“Here have a dollar
In fact now brotherman, here have two
Two dollars means a snack for me
But it means a big deal to you
Be strong, serve God only
Know that if you do, beautiful Heaven awaits
That’s the poem I wrote for the first time
I saw a man with no clothes, no money, no plate
Mr. Wendal, that’s his name
No one ever knew his name ‘cuz he’s a no one
Never thought twice about spending on an old bum
Until I had the chance to really get to know one
Now that I know ’em, to give him money isn’t charity
He gives me some knowledge, I buy him some shoes
And to think blacks spend all their money on big colleges
Still most of you come out confused
Go ahead Mr. Wendal
Go ahead Mr. Wendal
Mr. Wendal has freedom
A free that you and I think he’s dumb
Free to be without the worries of a quick to diss society
For Mr. Wendal’s a bum
His only worries are sickness and occasional harassment
By the police and their chase
Uncivilized we call him but I just saw him
Eat off the food we waste”
All he wanted was a little kindness on his birthday. Maybe a dollar or two…or so loose change. He has nothing. He is down on his luck in a ruthless city. Hundreds of people simply walk by paying him no mind. they don’t read his sign. If they do, they don’t know if it’s true. Regardless, most people have made up their mind a long time before this moment comes into focus. His life is not our problem. What if he uses the money to buy drugs. What if he is really hungry. What if it’s his birthday everyday. I’m sure he would want more than this life to celebrate.
I’m off the strip. Away from the flashing lights. I’m where dreams became nightmares for some. Stores are shuttered like the lives forgotten. Again, I don’t know their stories and I never will. I don’t know if they lost it all in the gambling halls or if they never had much of anything to lose in the first place. I’m off the strip and behind the curtain of the fairytale that is Las Vegas.
I don’t know his story. I didn’t get to have a conversation this time. I was busy. Just like everyone else. I didn’t notice him at first. He was invisible. They always are. I only noticed him out of the corner of my eye. I was stopped at a light waiting to cross the street. I’ll never know his story, but I want to. I have to get to my meeting. I’ll go back and drop a dollar in his cup. I hope. I have to.