On the corner of 66th and University, just outside a private Christian school, a second-hand K-mart shopping cart jolts and creeps over the faults in the trodden parking lot. A tattered United States flag drapes over the side of the cart as a tall black man with scarred hands pushes all his earthly belongings in his silver scuffed abode. The contours in his face reveal the deep secrets of sadistic battles waged long ago, while his russet wink and his unexpected energetic gait unveil his victories. This man proved his heroism in Vietnam, and journeyed home to recount his army chronicles to an ungrateful nation. Thirty some years later, my veteran, now homeless and mostly ignored, dreams underneath a dilapidated slide at a community park in Lubbock, Texas.
My veteran spends his days walking up and down the sidewalk of Trinity Christian High School. He crosses the parking lot every morning as the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, enjoy chapel teaching and complain about a rigorous academic schedule. My veteran sifts through his few possessions latent in his cart; a shiny gold medal twinkles in the morning rays, but goes unnoticed by those who pass by.
On the other side of town, Chad Wheeler, a young pastor, gathers the congregation of Carpenter’s Church for a sleep out. His enthusiasm is infectious as he unfolds his sleeping bag outside of the Mahon Public Library. He chats with a transient elderly man who sleeps against the cracked brick of the library walls. Tonight, this homeless man, along with numerous others, will open his domicile to Wheeler and his congregation. This night will begin as a way to raise awareness of homelessness in the community, but the participants will depart with greater knowledge than even the dusty books of the Mahon Library possess.
My classmates and I spend many days assembled in stuffy classrooms, as chalk clinks against the blackboard and teachers encourage us to change the world through a fundamental education. Our private school bursts with annotated novels, highlighted Bibles and complex equations, but my knowledge comes from gazing out the bolted window and knowing that my veteran’s thin scarf will not keep him warm tonight. He moves slower through the parking lot as the northern wind beats against his convex back. His expression ensnares my attention. I do not see any struggle or resentment in his tired eyes, only a determination in his steps and a glimmer of contentment.
The Lubbock Area Veterans War Memorial was erected to commemorate the United States veterans killed in battle and to offer respect and honor to the warriors still among us. My veteran deserves the impressive monument, a hot meal and an inviting home. Though he seems satisfied living day to day on the streets Lubbock, TX, our community–with compassion and gratitude–can significantly improve his comfort. My veteran is a war hero, a defender of my liberty, and it is time for the people and nation he defended to defend him.
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