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A sea of raw and beautiful humanity

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A sea of raw and beautiful humanity
(A day at the Veterans Hospital with my brother)


My brother David is back for some more visits to the VA.  He lives in Costa Rica, but there are times when he has to come back to the United States for a checkup.  Since I knew he was going to be a walk in we got there around 10 AM ready for a long day.  We were not disappointed.

The VA in Atlanta is a very colorful place.  It has veterans from all of our wars going there.  So there are men and women who are in their late teens, all the way up to veterans from the Korean War, who are in the mid to late 80’s.  When I first started going there (2004) were still men from the 2nd world war scattered among all the other men.  Yesterday I did not see any, but a few from the Korean War.  Soon, I would think, those of us from the Viet Nam War area will start to thin out, but at this time I believe we are the majority that are going there at this time.   I feel a deep connection with all of them.

David belongs to the purple team, so we went up to the third floor and checked in.  I guess we were there from 10 AM until around 5 PM, so it was a long day, but not too long.  I always bring my reading material and find it easy to pray in that ocean of beautiful yet suffering humanity.  Men and women of all shapes and sizes who have been formed by war.  There is no way to romanticizes this.  Yet those who have seen combat ( I am not one of them ) have a special way about them.  Their humanity, their inner suffering is often there for all to see.  When young, these beautiful souls saw many evils, bloodshed, and suffering that is hard for those who have not experienced it to understand.  There is a rawness about many of them, and if you talk to them and listen, it is a very humbling experience.   Many have life-threatening diseases or chronic health problems that come from the chemicals that they were exposed to when in a war zone.  Some have mental problems ({PTSD) to varying degrees which can make their lives a living hell.  Yet there is also a richness to them, a maturity that many will never achieve because of what they went through.

David needed to make an appointment to deal with his main reason for being here.  So as we were going down to the office to arrange for it I spotted a man in a wheelchair coming from the pharmacy.  He was my age, in a wheelchair and going very slow.  So I asked if he needed a push.  He accepted and off we went.  He was a very friendly guy and we talked and joked a bit as we went along.  The hallway was full so it took a little while.  Yes, there is rush hour traffic in the hallways of the VA building in Atlanta.  So we got to the front desk and he said this was good enough, his son will see him when he comes in.  Before I left I noticed that his foot was bandaged and said how his wound was coming along.  He looked up at me and showed some distress.  He told me that he had diabetes and that they told him that day that there is a very good chance that they will have to amputate his foot.  He was going to seek a second opinion which I encouraged him to do.  I could tell he was a gentle, kind man and was afraid of what would happen if he lost his foot.  I told him how sorry I was and that I would pray for him.  He teared up a bit.  He did tell me that he was lucky in many ways, for he has a family who takes care of him now that his health is so bad.  His diabetes came from the chemical Agent Orange that he was exposed to while in Viet Nam and that he gets enough to live on from disability.  He knows many vets who are on the street because of the acuteness of their PTSD, they simply can’t be with others.   I wanted to embrace him, but I know that there was little I could do to console him.  I will never forget him.

The people who work in the VA have a very stressful job.  When my brother and I got to the clinic we needed to be in in order to make an appointment; there was an elderly couple in front of us, probably just a few years older than my brother and I.  So in the mid 70’s.  They were there for 3 hours waiting to see the doctor and were fed up and were leaving.  The man was in a wheelchair.  So they left, and as soon as they left a nurse rushed out asking if they were still there.  When she was told they were gone I could see that she was distressed.  She told the other woman that his condition was serious and the doctor really wanted to see them.  So I asked if they wanted me to go after them.  They said yes and I went and found them, just before they were going to cross the street to the parking lot.  I reached them and told them that the needed to come back.  At first, the woman did not want to, but I told her that they were concerned about her husband’s condition.  So thankfully they went back.  There are so many veterans who are my age that the system is top heavy with us, and since each needs individual attention there can be a long wait.  Which is stressful for all involved.  The workers often get the brunt of the frustration, but they have told me that they are trained not to react, that it is not personal at all.  All in all the people who work there are a compassionate and even loving group of people.

So we made the second to last bus to our parking place off Briarcliff.   The parking lots are so full that I always go there, that way I don’t have to look for a parking space for 30 or more minutes.  On the way home David and I stopped off for dinner, we had some burgers at the Burger Barn on the way home.  I don’t eat many burgers anymore, but it was a nice way to end a long day.  It was actually quite a pleasant day.  For some reason, when I have to wait somewhere for a long time, the hours seem like minutes.  So even though we were there for eight hours, it seemed more like one hour.  Don’t know why that is, but I am glad it is that way more often than not for me.  Perhaps it is because I am surrounded by people who are beautiful to me in all of their raw humanity. 

I do believe deeply in the love that God has for all people.  I also feel when I am centered and not so self-absorbed that I can’t see beyond my own nose, which happens more often than I would care to admit, that those who can’t hide their wounded humanity, in some way show Christ Jesus to us, who loves each human being intensely, infinitely.  This is a truth often forgotten by Christians, because of our need to judge, separate and label others.  Judging is an awful pastime that humanity is subject too.  It is a sin that I often repent of and will have to do so in the future.  When by God’s grace that judgment is held back, I see only beauty in people, in spite of their flaws and sins.  I think these moments come to me when by God’s grace he allows me in some small way to put on the ‘Mind of Christ’.   To understand that in order to find Christ Jesus, our hearts have to break open and freed from the fear of the suffering others we in some small way learn to see how Christ Jesus loves all of us.  His love caused him, well causes him to take on all of our pain and suffering and in that, we have a brother who travels with us all the days of our lives.  I leave judgment to him, for he sees without labels, without fear, without anger, he sees the truth about each of us and still loves us.  So we are called to love all, our families, our friends as well as our enemies and all those in-between. 

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