Seven Weary Veterans!
Seven weary veterans struggling to survive
Seven weary veterans struggling to stay housed
Seven weary veterans struggling to live in the torment of their pasts
They tell stories with tears in their eyes, plucked as impressible teenagers with nothing to do, to serve their country with courage.
They tell stories of becoming killing machines, seeing their comrades and innocent civilians die.
They tell stories trying to hide their pain, their terror, their grief, their regrets, their guilt. But their eyes tell a story of fear and confusion.
Confused of the suffering neglect they now feel!
Confused as to why they've been left behind!
Confused of their homelessness and troubling mental illness.
Just dazed and confused, they rest before me, and I try, simply try, pitifully try, to offer a little of what I can!
They are heroes, homeless heroes, disposable heroes, faulty heroes and heroes without answers to all the questions that ricochet inside their heads!
Bernard stumbles by in a drunken, drugged out, stupor, he slowly lifts his right hand to signal "hi." Possessed by the bottle and the pipe, which he self-medicates on, he tries to escape the nightmares which endlessly haunt and taunt him. He wants to be alone, as people make him aggressive. He fails to stay housed, so he trudges down Wilson Avenue with a full belly from our cafeteria. He settles down behind Uplift School for the night, and tries to find some sleep, combined with a little peace.
Gregory celebrates a new chance, a new life, a new start, a new reality. He represented his country on two tours, in two different wars, yet stands today plagued by ever increasing trauma, angry outbursts and rapidly rotating medication trials. He lives in a bureaucratic nightmare, but on this day, his many homeless years cease with newness and a fresh new beginning. A new apartment.
David sits hunched over dazed, utterly confused and sweating profusely. Judged as a heroin addict, they had loaded up his veins with depakote to stop the seizures. I take him by his hand, and guide him to his housing appointment. I become his voice. I pray! He needs it, yet he fears it. He loves and feels at home outdoors, the place where thugs have victimized and assaulted his zombie like existence. "Not eligible" the administration says, "you went crazy! You're on your own!" "hey I served you guys for 3 years!" he blankly weeps at the neglect, yet he finds relative peace by Lake Michigan with some local raccoons.
Jeremiah sanely protects and guides the fragile souls that cling to him. He questions his own inner rational, as he supports and remembers the forgotten, neglected and psychotic weaklings that beg for help. They grip onto him like a leach and he extends his compassionate hand. With stubbornness and love in his heart, he stays homeless by lifting others up.
Shane stumbles into my office, desperate for a place. Tormented by a horrific past in Vietnam and present day blackouts, he drowns those visions with the bottle. His impatience infuriates him and he yells at me, his helper, as he wants an unanswerable answer now. I cringe, but the pain is unbearable and he mellows as he grasps the need to try a little patience. Housing will come, yet bureaucracy says "it's there, it's ready, just wait". He's tired of sleeping on trains, but he leaves my office to do just that.
The sunglasses Micah wears, hide his glossy eyes. He is tired. Tired of prisons, tired of homeless shelters, tired of drinking, tired of drugging, tired of fighting to survive, tired of the nightmares, tired of the blackouts, tired of trying. He is tired of endlessly being tired. Today he is housed, and he takes off his shades to tell me of that 17 year old boy they'd trained to be a killing machine and how he'd done horrendous things. Tears flow down his 62 year old cheeks, revealing how the meds can't heal or forgive him. He's tired, but he keeps on fighting!
Freddie sits in Starbucks, riddled by endless paranoia and fear. He cannot see me on our site, as he fears the CIA, the FBI and the Chicago Police. We meet by chance, as he once graced our humble shelter in his military garb and his tireless work ethic. Sweating with his countless layers of uniformed madness, he dramatically expresses his need for freedom, God, community and peace of mind. Upon leaving, he remains in tormented isolation, fed by that continual mistrust and paranoia in the ones he once diligently and faithfully served!
These seven weary veterans have very different stories, yet they endlessly cry for hope, cry to God and beg for mercy.
These seven weary veterans are riddled with pain, subjected to countless aftereffects and consumed by a colorful array of addictions.
These seven weary veterans love our little homeless shelter, are thankful for non-judgmental love, the community and fellowship. They see and experience filled bellies, changes in clothes, beds slept upon and listening ears, giving these seven men glimpses of Jesus and a picture of hope in the harrowing street they once called "blood alley!"
These seven weary veterans have a faith that shames my own, a love that extends beyond mine and a courage that overshadows my weak attempts to raise a revolutionary fist.
These seven weary veterans are clinging to the merciful God, begging like the humble repentant tax-collector and praying with all earnestness to the One who boldly proclaimed, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."