Last night the census was low. Only 40 men were there, with five late arrivals. After we’d cooked and served, I sat down at a table and ate my dinner with four of the men. One of them didn’t speak. One had the gift of gab. The remaining two were taciturn but engaging, if that makes sense.
We talked about their mothers and children, their home cities and historical facts about presidents and holidays. They said there were fewer men there because it was the holiday and people travel. This made me marvel that even the homeless get out of Berkeley on long weekends.
One gentleman asked about my birthday and regaled me with a vast knowledge of astrology. He said he developed a penchant for it when he was stationed in the army. We talked of his service but I stopped myself from asking how he’d ended up in the shelter. Sometimes they describe their journey. This time, he didn’t offer and I didn’t ask.
It’s not as if we don’t see many homeless in the Bay Area. We do, all the time. But up close in the shelter, you see not street people so much as men with a variety of complex problems: addiction, mental illness, criminal activity and severe health issues. We see them try to hoard food because they don’t know where their next meal will come from. And we always have to say no, that we can’t give them tin foil to take an extra dessert back to their rooms.
I just hadn’t heard anyone talk about his time in the U.S. military before last night. I’ve seen men who look like they belong on the Berkeley campus teaching grad school, but I understand that life happens and anyone can slip through the cracks.
But how the U.S. government fails a person who served time in the military for his country…that leaves me speechless.
As I said, we love this work we do as a family. It’s physically challenging and can be mentally exhausting. I return home each time and count my blessings. And I usually cry because there is always one man in the crowd who inevitably breaks my heart.
But this time, I fell mute. Because this man wasn’t riding a Harley or shouting for Sarah to “Look over here!” This man was wondering what he’d do the next day and how, where and when he’d eat again.
Like so many other forgotten and neglected Vets, this man had served his country. And he deserved better than to find him self on a rainy, cold night, telling me that my moon was in Capricorn.
With thanks to all who quietly serve their country and fellow man, and make this world a better place. Happy Memorial Day.