We made eye contact from a distance. With my warm jacket zipped up, purse held tightly to my side, I let my brisk, determined strides say, “Don’t bother me.”
The homeless man, huddled in a ragged jacket, looked away as if he expected me to brush past him on my way to better things. His callused hand held a one-word sign: Hungry.
Once I was close enough, I saw a military photo taped haphazardly to his sign. Was the picture of a young Army soldier the same man holding the sign?
While waiting with a huddled mass at a stoplight, I compared the picture to the thin, wrinkled man holding the sign. As the light turned green, we all moved on, leaving him just as bereft as before.
Yet at one point in this homeless man’s life, he’d sacrificed his time and his own plans, and had served his country for all of us.
Our nation has over 21 million veterans alive today. Sadly, some are like the homeless man—often ignored, sometimes abused, and mostly just waiting to die. This homeless man survived Vietnam, but now faces a much slower death standing on cold street corners waiting for random coins to be tossed his way.
Then there are the vets returning from the Middle East without their limbs. Others have mental wounds that cannot be seen and are so challenging to heal.
But truly, isn’t this the plight of all our veterans—the wounds we cannot see? Wounds caused by the things they’ve seen and done. We know so little about the horrors they faced. It seems that they deserve more than a single day of recognition.
Millions have served so I can sit here in freedom—including the homeless vet on the busy street corner. Including the younger vets with families at home and no arms to hold them or legs to run after them. Including many older vets who need extra assistance getting around and who live on meager stipends.
So what am I doing for Veteran’s Day? I’m opening my heart to them.
God knows that once a heart opens then love can begin to pour out.
And love is perhaps the greatest gift we can offer our veterans because love is willing to meet their needs—not just today, but for the tomorrows too.