A man selling homemade leather key chains
As I was returning home from my stay in the Bargetown area in Kentucky, I remembered that in Bowling Green they have a White Castle restaurant. I lived my first ten years in St. Louis and so have a special affection for these hamburgers and as far as I can ascertain, there are no restaurants in Georgia. So I pulled off to have my lunch. As I was eating I noticed a man about my age coming into the restaurant. He had on camouflage slacks and a grey sweater, so I thought he may be a veteran and went back to my meal.
As I was leaving and just getting into my car, I heard someone call out “Sir” twice. So I turned and there was the same individual sitting by the entrance. So I went over to see what he wanted. He had some leather key chains in his hands, quite a few of them and home made from the look of them. It was then I realized that he was most likely homeless. I asked him what he wanted. He wanted to know if I would mind buying some of the leather key chains.
“Hi” I responded, my name is Mark, what is yours? He replied “Martin”. As we talked I discovered that he has been homeless for a long time. I asked him about how he gets by in the cold and he responded that he was used to sleeping out in the winter and it did not bother him. I was impressed at how neat he was. I guess that took time and discipline everyday to make him self presentable to others. I gave him enough for four key chains and he thanked me profusely.
I stayed for a few minutes and asked if he goes to the VA. He was in the military about the same time I was. He was in from 66-70, while I was in 67-71. He responded in the negative and went into a gentle rant about the VA and how they refused to take care of him. Now I have been going to the VA for many years and while it is not a perfect organization, I know for a fact that those who work there treat everyone with gentle consideration…often in very stressful situations. The more he talked the more I believed that he suffered from some kind of mental condition and just listened. After a few more minutes I said I had to be going and wished him well. He thanked me for buying four of his bracelets since the last two days he only sold two.
Communication is difficult in the best of times and when someone has even a slight mental condition the process of trying to listen and to feel listened to, only gets more complicated. Even in so called ‘normal’ people, those who are on different sides of the fence can seem ‘mental’ to the other side. I have been called by some militant atheist crazy and mentally ill because of my faith. To tell you the truth, when I hear some of them talk, I am sorry to say I often think the same about them. Such is our human situation.
The veteran I talked to, if indeed he had some kind of mental condition, was intelligent enough to cover it up. However it is in a prolonged conversation that the ability to communicate becomes more difficult. I am sorry I did not have more time to converse with him; if I did perhaps my assessment of him would have changed. What worries me is there so many like him on the street who don’t seek help because they may not want it. He did have pride of appearance which says a lot about him I believe. He did not seem be in any kind of addiction, which no doubt works in his favor. I suppose I will never forget him, nor should I.
People in the situation he is in did not plan it and one day that man could be me….life has lots of twist and turns that is for sure. Quite a journey for most of us, so I think compassion is in order when we met others on the way.