I met a man this evening. A very interesting man, with a remarkably positive attitude, especially given his circumstances. I had occasion to meet him as my husband and came out of one of our favorite pizza restaurants downtown and he stopped to ask us if we knew where he could find work. He didn’t start out asking for money like a lot of people do, although that did happen later on. No, he told us that he had been looking for work for ages upon ages, to no avail. It wasn’t that he wasn’t intelligent or a good person to be around, because he seemed to be both. No, it was because the economy has hit so many people upside the head that no one could afford to hire him (or anyone else) to do much of anything. He had a place to live, which was one positive point. We gave him what was left of one of our pizzas, since we couldn’t do a whole lot else. It wasn’t this part of the story that struck me and inspired me to write, though. That came later.
He told us he had terminal cancer. Brain cancer, and was trying to get the money to pay for one of his anti-seizure medications. God knows I know how expensive meds can be, and how unpleasant life can be without them. And let’s not even mention that cancer made my once-vibrant and active mother practically waste away. I’m sorry I had to put it like that, Mama, but cancer just has to be one of the worst things ever created. That wasn’t what bothered me the most, though.
I’ll admit that this is a subject I only know a little about, if anything at all. But then, since when has that ever stopped me? 🙂
What bothered me the most was that he told us he was a Vietnam veteran and had finally gotten an award letter for money and benefits from the VA (Veterans’ Administration). That war ended on April 30th, 1975. This is October 25, 2010. Thirty-five years, and they were just now getting to him. This disgusts me, but unfortunately does not surprise me. I’m not sure if the cancer was a result of something from the war or if it came on its own later, but it pisses me off royally that someone who took the time and effort to serve our country-who literally put his life on the line-has to beg on the street for money for his medications. Granted, he was going to get a decent sum as the ‘back pay’ for the time it took them to get their stuff together, but that’s not really the point. The point is that here was yet another person who did their part in serving their country (and the draft was around in Vietnam, so it might not have been by choice), and what did he have to show for it? What was his thanks? A lot of red tape, and that’s better than a lot of other people get. At least he had a home; so many others don’t.
It was just so beautiful to me to see his positive demeanor. I think he mentioned being blessed and trying to trust in God about five times in that short, maybe 10-minute conversation. I’ve completely lost faith over much smaller things. Whether he actually wrote it or not, he shared with us a beautiful poem about a rose-about how God takes such good care of small things like that, so how much more must He love us? That’s reminds me of one of my favorite parts of the Bible-Matthew 6:25-34. –
25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
I say that this is one of my favorite parts of the Bible, but it’s one that I constantly seem to forget about when dealing with everyday things. Granted, I have had a lot of trouble with money and other things lately, but nothing even close to what so many other people have. Meeting this man tonight was a good reminder of that, of how I should be thankful for what I have and trust in God to take care of me. That is one of the hardest things for me to do, to stop worrying and trust. I don’t know why.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, how do you know he was telling the truth? I don’t. He could have been feeding us a line of bull that would make Nixon look honest, and I’d be none the wiser. That happens. However, I’ve heard enough similar stories to know that it’s very possible for someone to fall through the cracks like this. On the other side of the coin, my uncle gets very nice care from the VA in his area for his cancer. He has late-stage lymphoma and has been able to get a good bit of help from the VA in terms of medicine. He, however, is one of the lucky ones. Blessed ones, rather. He was in the Navy for 26 years-a person is considered ‘career’ and eligible for a pension and all that after 20 years. My father gets a pension, and he was in for 21 years. I certainly don’t begrudge my father and uncle their benefits; God knows they need and deserve it. I just wish that the man I met on the street this evening had been that fortunate. Granted, the man I talked to probably wasn’t in for that long, but It takes a special breed of person to do that kind of job for such a long time, especially after having been to war. God knows, I couldn’t do it. Even so, surely a country that claims to be the richest and most powerful in the world would be able to at least take care of people who had to go to war and come back the worse for it. Again, I’m not sure that this man’s cancer was caused by something in the war, but so many other people have lifelong disabilities as a result of military service. It’s not only the physical disabilities I’m thinking of, although those are no small potatoes. However, mental disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that often occurs in veterans is nothing to sneeze at. In a sense, that could be more debilitating than some of the physical problems, because there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all treatment for it. I’ve known people who are simply not the same as they were when they left; they don’t regret serving, but they can’t help but see that they were changed by their experiences in ways that they don’t always understand.
I am all for the military, but I am also all for people who give up as much as they do being at least given what they need to live and have their illnesses cared for. I know cancer treatment is extraordinarily expensive, but I would hope that people with less serious medical problems than terminal cancer would have what they need to live and work in ‘the civilian life’. A lot of them do, but a lot more of them don’t. I think that is disgustingly maddening and sad at the same time. With all the money this country has spent on wars that are based on lies and getting involved where perhaps they shouldn’t, you’d think they’d be able to afford this man’s anti-seizure medication. But then, maybe they just don’t want to.