I spent quite a bit of time at the Flagstaff homeless shelter while I was going to school. I was working on a project at the time on the lack of shelter in the harsh winters, when homeless people would get themselves arrested to avoid being turned away from a bed at night.
I would always show up around dinner time when everyone was in the same area. The nights were noisy and crowded, and I was constantly being pulled every which way – they all had a story they wanted to share, or to smile for a camera. But there was one person there who was quietly sitting, not physically alone, but solitary in his own mind, reading his bible. He pulled on my shirt sleeve to get my attention.
C.R. was a Vietnam Veteran. I thought I was preparing for a story about his hardships, but I was going to be surprised.
He hadn’t planned on making the army a career, but what started out as a 4 year job kept going, and 10 years later, the army was all he was trained for, so he stayed in it. He didn’t have a family. He’d been caught up on the way and by the time he was ready to settle down, there wasn’t anyone to settle down with.
He was developing Alzheimer and his hands shook a little bit. He couldn’t afford medication because he didn’t have a job. He couldn’t get a job because he needed medication. The same went for a home. He said it was his bible who kept him warm at night – everyone he met he asked to leave a note on the first few pages.
Despite all of these, somehow he didn’t regret anything.
“I don’t care if you remember anything else I said, but this part you’ve got to tell everyone you know about: I would do it all over again if I went back. I didn’t get to have a family, but that’s okay. I fought for you guys, so you could have a future , because someone needed to fight for you so you could do better things. God bless you.”
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