Rarely Proud to be an American Anymore
Thursday, May 19, 2016 21 Comments
How did our country become so selfish?
An interaction that left me Grumpy – and it’s not even Monday!
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
in the Monday Grumpy Monday Series
Walkin’ my Dog
As someone who moved around a lot throughout my life, I am currently living a considerably more isolated life than I would prefer because I have landed in a town I can’t really understand – Cincinnati, Ohio.
From my experience, at least, Cincinnati seems to be one of those towns I’ve come to call “passport towns.”
An introduction from somebody who’s grown up here – or lived here for most of his or her life – seems to be a prerequisite for even so much as a welcoming smile many days, and certainly the passport needed to develop a community of true friends. Since my move here several years ago, I have found myself quite lonely as a result.
True friends share each others’ lives, not merely conversations in passing or occasional calls for help or understanding in times of trouble. Most of my friends are scattered across the nation, so I frequently get a hankering for a a bit of face-to-face interaction, even though, since Kate Kelly’s passing, I no longer know anyone in Cincinnati I could count among my true friends.
Enforced isolation is something I have not experienced since, many years ago now, I first moved to New Orleans, Louisiana for grad school – another passport town. That surprised me, by the way. I’ve always made friends easily, and it’s extremely rare to need a passport in the South. But I think I finally figured it out.
I’ve observed that the two towns I mentioned are alike in this way: people who grow up there tend to stay put or move back “home,” perhaps because they finally tire of living in some other passport town where they couldn’t develop a community of friends either. In any case, a great many of the residents of these towns seem disinclined to widen their circles to include a stranger without the requisite introduction from a local.
Taking my own advice (from the Series I have been writing on loneliness and isolation), my little dog TinkerToy and I get out several times a day – and I smile warmly at everyone I pass on our walks around the neighborhood (even if they don’t return my smile). I engage anyone who seems the least bit friendly in a passing conversation.
“Hi, how are you?”
“Don’t you just love (or hate) this weather?”
When I notice an expression on a face that seems to indicate that they are about to bring our little chat to a close, I wave them on and tell them I hope they have a nice day.
But passport towns are not the central point of today’s post.
Walking my dog is how I came to meet Staff Sergeant Brown.
Some actual connection
My little Shih Tzu TinkerToy and I frequently pass a small cigarettes-snacks-and-beer store that serves the many college students in this section of the walking neighborhood I currently call home. Staff Sergeant Brown was sitting on a stoop out in front, keeping watch on two large garbage bags bulging with cans.
Do you know what he can get for those cans these days? A whole thirty cents – per pound.
And that’s how this courageous, 63 year old veteran of FOUR wars is currently supporting himself – because he is too proud to beg.
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How we met
I have long been in the habit of attempting to interact with veterans – ever since the shabby treatment the American public extended to returning Viet Nam vets, in fact.
It’s seldom difficult to identify the warriors who made it home. When they are not in uniform, they are frequently wearing old army jackets, those pants with lots of pockets, or those baseball-looking caps with something written on them that indicates that they are (or once were) serving in one of the branches of our armed services.
I always extend my hand to shake theirs – once confirming that they are, in fact, veterans – after I thank them for their service, of course.
It both warms and breaks my heart that the initial wariness on their faces in response to my question turns into a grateful smile when they hear why I want to know.
This particular vet took the time to take his wallet out of one of the many pockets in his pants, to make sure I could verify his name and status on his Veterans I.D. card. ADD/EFD Coach that I am, I made sure he remembered to put that wallet back into his pocket. He will most certainly need to show it if a bed in that veteran’s housing facility ever becomes available.
Lessons in Perspective
A perfectly clean and sober Staff Sergeant Brown was about to pop open a can of beer encased in a paper bag when we came walking by — which he didn’t even move to touch during our entire conversation, by the way. He did offer to share the sandwich he was eating with my puppy.
When I demurred, he insisted on breaking off a big piece for little Tink, who had been keeping a close eye on that sandwich. When I protested that it was too much for my little pup, Staff Sergeant Brown’s reply astonished me. “I’ve never been able to eat in front of another creature who looks hungry without offering to share.”
Isn’t it amazing how those with practically nothing are almost always willing to share what little they have?
And it’s a crying shame that those who will most assuredly die before they can exhaust their monetary supply are frequently so guarded about extending the smallest of helping hands – even when it would barely represent a droplet in their second-home buckets.
As we continued our conversation he disclosed, without the slightest hint of a bid for sympathy to be found on his smiling face, that he was currently living “practically under the stadium.”
He’s on a waiting list for housing, you see – and a treatment program for residual PTSD, which he admitted only after I asked him if he were ever still troubled by what he witnessed during any of those wars.
But so far there aren’t any beds to be had “at this time.”
He checks in weekly – on foot, which is also how he drops off those garbage bags full of the cans he collects so that he can exchange them for money to pay for his sandwiches.
No money in my pocket
By the time we made it home, my little dog TinkerToy and I, and by the time I rummaged around to locate ten one dollar bills in various stashes around my apartment, it was no longer possible to offer them to Staff Sergeant Brown. Nobody was sitting on that stoop down the street . . . and Staff Sergeant Brown was nowhere else to be found as Tinker and I walked this way and that.
I’m not sure if I could have convinced him to take them, in any case. He seemed to be a very proud man – and with good reason, I have no doubt.
But, but but . . .
Many people would probably attempt to caution me that, if he had been there to accept my meager offering, he would only have used it to buy another beer or two at that little store.
And you wanna’ know what I would have said in response?
After what he’s lived through,
how could anyone begrudge him the pleasure of a few cans of beer?
What’s WRONG with people anymore?
Actually, what’s wrong with America
that Cincinnati can’t find him a BED?!
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Click below for a heat-warming story of a small gift that changed several lives,
on the fascinating blog of a man who really talks to the animals – in sign language!
The Fear of Giving?
Don’t forget to check out the next post in the Loneliness Series,
The Unique Loneliness of the Military Family
… and the isolation of returning vets
Catch up with Part 1 HERE (The Importance of Community to Health)
Part 2 HERE (Sliding into Loneliness)
and Part 3 HERE (When You’re Longing for Connection)
Let’s hear it from YOU
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- Brain-based Coaching with Madelyn Griffith-Haynie
- LinkList: What Kind of World do YOU Want?
- Monday Grumpy Monday LinkList
Related Articles ’round the net
- History | Vietnam Veterans of America
- Government failing 2.6 million war vets
- ‘Back Home’: Government is failing its returning veterans on many levels
- Homelessness Causing PTSD Itself — Understanding The Link Between PTSD and Homelessness
- Is Stone-Age Therapy Failing our Veterans? (scroll DOWN for article)
- Is Government Bureaucracy Failing Our Veterans? – Family survival
- Hey! Why Are We Failing Our Veterans?
- Veterans voice problems with VA’s new pain killer policy
- Treatment of Vietnam Veterans After the War
- Military Tradition – History of Veterans Abused, Discarded
Veterans Support Sites
- Returning Veterans Project
- Returning Service Members – US Department of Veterans Affairs
- Programs and Services | Coming Home Project
Links to Programs and Services for Veterans, Service Members, Families & Caregivers
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