Last week, standing under a bridge in Long Beach, California with a plate of food in hand, I talked to a Vietnam veteran with two Bowie knives strapped to his legs. His tirade about the Federal Government was looping, so I interrupted him and asked his name.
“People call me Diablo,” he said.
“No sh*t,” I thought looking at the madness in his brown eyes.
Then trying to communicate something extra important, Diablo reached his index finger to touch my forehead, but I dodged it. Dream Center staff told us ahead of time, personal space is a good thing and lines are clearly drawn, so they can keep serving people who live under bridges.
Now, I’ve been as guilty as anyone for thinking snarky thoughts about homeless people who beg or are super drunk or high on the street.
“Why don’t they get a job and work like the rest of us.”
“Those people are there by choice.”
And it’s true, many people are homeless because they don’t like structure and don’t want to play by society’s rules.
But it’s also true that some are so far down, it’s impossible to get up without help, and that includes many who return from our wars with obvious and not-so-obvious damage.
According to the Center for American Progress, one in every seven homeless adults is a US Veteran; and Kaiser Health News reports the number of veterans using mental health services has jumped 34 percent since 2006. So the homeless guy you see begging at the intersection has a one in seven chance of being a US Veteran. Yikes!
Global problems seem to want global solutions, but I don’t have any. What can I do? Well, I just jumped in and Diablo scaled the problem down for me – to exactly one. I can handle one. I can feed one, I can listen to one.
Ever hear of the kid picking up starfish and throwing them back in the water? His father pointed out hundreds more stranded by the tide, noting how little his efforts would matter. The kid shrugged and said “well, it matters to this one” and chucked it back in the water.
I kind of imagine Jesus like that. He is the good shepherd who will leave the 99 in his flock to search for the lost one. Jesus stopped on a very busy day to heal one hemorrhaging woman; He stopped to heal a demon-possessed man living among the tombs and yet another man blind from birth.
So, I think it boils down to a choice of two paths – something I talk about a lot. Are we going to live like the kid throwing starfish back or like the Dad who, concerned about his son’s expectations, explains the futility of the effort.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
BTW – Visit Operation Dignity if you want to help out some vets for Christmas.