We see him in the mornings usually, standing at the corner of two major downtown streets. He picks up pieces of trash and, in an inexplicable fury, throws them with all his might at a small brick wall. When they bounce off, he picks them right back up and throws them again. In the several minutes we sit at the light he will repeat this process over and over, in an obviously unbalanced attempt to get paper bags and bits of refuse to defy the laws of physics and pass through to the other side. It’s the violence of his throwing that draws the eye, the force equivalent to that of a major league pitcher painting the corners with a 90 mile an hour fastball. His face is twisted in a rictus of rage, and each time the trash bounces off the wall, he grows more agitated and his throwing takes on an even greater air of desperation. As our light goes green, we turn slowly past him, wondering if there will ever be a day when he succeeds in ramming the remnants of his imagination through an immovable and impassive reality.
She works six days a week, and has put three children through school and college. Her mother and father are now both old and in poor health, so she’s moved to a new home, far from the city where the houses are cheap, so that everyone can be under the same roof. In the mornings she gets up before daylight, as the drive to work takes nearly an hour to complete, sometimes more. She spends the days at her office acting as a buffer between angry and frustrated clients, and co-workers who expect her to manage significant chunks of their lives. She leaves in the evening, faces another monstrous drive out of the city, and returns to a home where every minute of her life is dictated by the needs of others. She is so very tired, and some days the stress proves too much to bear. She feels pains in her chest, and wonders just how much more she can possibly bear. Her entire life has been given over to the needs of others, so much so that little remains for herself. She gazes upon the remnants of her hopes and dreams and wonders if there will ever come a time when someone will be able to look after her. We worry about her, but realize there is nothing we can do to help but pray.
When he first got home, it was the awkwardness of others that bothered him the most – people afraid to address his damage head on. He’d enter a room and notice the eyes turning towards him only to rip away as if looking upon a naked teen. If he participated in any discussions, nobody ever addressed him directly, instead aiming their comments at a point somewhere between his navel and his collarbone. His eyes were strictly out of bounds. Even his closest friends could hardly bear to look upon the remnants of his broken body. It was as if they saw the ghost of the man he’d been, and realized that, but for a certain moment in time, things could have been very different. Or maybe they thought that looking upon him was too close to seeing themselves in his place? He realized that what he saw in their faces was shame, of course, not for him, but for what he had given to them and his country of his own free will. While they had sat cloistered in comfort, raging about whether their taxes were too high, their favorite singers were secretly gay, or their cars or cell phones were sufficiently cool enough, he had bled for them. Quite a bit, actually. They now knew that the pieces he had left of himself on the battlefield were far more valuable than any petty thing they had once thought mattered, and they felt a little sick inside.
Nobody ever really knew what his name was. They only knew that he walked his dog every day at 6:00 o’clock in the afternoon, and that he would wave at the cars as they passed him by, even though some drivers were so caught up in their own thoughts they forgot to wave back. He looked to be about eighty, and wore an old man’s clothes; baggy trousers, worn out sneakers, and and old blue sweater vest over a simple white shirt. His dog, a friendly Shepherd mix, would lumber alongside him on his walks, heroically enduring an obvious pain in his hips, simply to be as close to his human as possible. Together they walked the length of the road to the docks, and would sit one the bench to watch the sun set in a violet sky. Just before the last of the light slipped beneath the waves, they would both slowly rise, and begin the return trip home. On the weekends, we’d all see him puttering about the yard, his dog snoozing comfortably in the shade as the man stitched up the tattered remnants of old fishing nets, trying to make something new out of the terribly used. He was good at what he did, and even though his fingers were curled from age and arthritis, they practically flew among the threads, weaving pathways and tying knots that would have been the envy of any machine. When he would finish (and his task often took many days) he would load the newly restored nets into the back of his truck and drive down to the docks to sell them back to the fishermen. He always got a sale, for the fishermen loved his work as much as he did, and they shared his love for the artistry of the weave. When he didn’t appear for a few days, people wondered where he’d been, even the ones that forgot to wave. When the ambulance came, no one knew who had called, but many gathered to watch as he was wheeled out of his home for the final time. While we missed his presence, only the lonely Shepherd truly mourned the loss of his beloved. He was picked up shortly after, by a younger man with sad , but forgetful eyes. He loaded the Shepherd into his SUV, and together they drove off to discover if a new future could be forged on a foundation of silently shared pain.