This morning, I was forced to take the metro to work after finding out last night that my license was suspended due to a lapse in insurance coverage. The police officers who pulled me over in Arlington could not have been more polite and professional. I’ll admit, even though it was a cop who saved my life in 2015 and a litany of police officers who became my friends in Greenville, South Carolina at the exact time that people I called friends abandoned me in droves during my time of tribulation, old habits die hard. Waiting for what seemed like an eternity while the police officers ran my record, I tensed up and felt the same anxiety that countless “African-Americans” feel when they get pulled over.
After fifteen minutes, Arlington Country PD Officer Gatto approached the driver side window with a smile and told me that he would have to confiscate my driver’s license but that if my wife is able to drive, we can go about our way. He cited me for driving on a suspended license but told me that if I get insured and get my license reinstated, that most likely I have nothing to worry about when court day arrives. I shook hands with him and his partner and asked if they served in the military. His partner, whose name I did not get, affirmed that he was in the army and I shared with him that both my grandfathers fought in World War II against Mussolini’s army in Ethiopia. I must note that my grandmother also fought against the fascist Italian invaders during WWII. I also shared with him that my dad was likewise a veteran who served in the Ethiopian Navy and that I too would have been a soldier had I not thrown away my chance to go to West Point by trying to fit in through validation instead of standing out in excellence.
The reason I have been moved to share this story with you is because this morning I encountered a United States Marine who retired from the corps in 1995 only to be embraced by hardship and strife. Our encounter was pure chance, but then again, those who truly observe realize that there is no such thing as an accident when it comes to the poetry that is life. After I disembarked the metro at Gallery Place/Chinatown Station to transfer to the red line, I decided to address my buna (coffee) pangs. I belatedly chose to go to Starbucks. As I was waiting in line, a man with a Marine Corps hat walked in. I guess you can call it a gift or a curse, but I’ve always had this ability to sense people’s sadness.
Empaths who are reading this will understand what I write of.
I walked over to Justine and shook his hand and thanked him for his service. We had a small chat at which point he asked me if I could get him some coffee. What I am telling you next I prayed for more than an hour trying to decide whether or not I should share this story. The acts of kindness we pass on to others, the “charity” we impart upon others, should not be expressed outwardly. We should give quietly and we will be blessed loudly. Moreover, it is wrong to turn people who suffer into billboards to advertise our greatness.
Contrary to the neo-pharisees who invert the teachings of Yeshua every Sunday, tithing is not about money, it’s about the love and kindness we silently pass on to others who struggle.
However, after reflecting for a long time, I decided to share the story of my encounter with Justin for a reason–his story needs to be told. After I bought him some coffee and a sandwich, we talked for a little bit and I asked him what he does to see if there was a way I could connect him with someone in my network of friends and family who could find Justin employment. He told me that he came up to DC to reach out to the Veteran’s Affairs to get benefits that he is owed but has run into a wall of red tape. This is nothing new, I’ve met a legion of veterans throughout the past couple of years who come back home broken by wars only to navigate and endless maze of bureaucracies in order to receive the services that their nation promises them.
While the many swine eat from the trough of the war industry, those who sign up to serve their nation out of either honor or lack of opportunities, or both, are told to eat cake as defense contractors and warmongers feast like royalty. I once worked at Booz Allen Hamilton as an Associate; it never escaped my mind that I was making at least three times as much as the military personnel I was supporting at the Pentagon and Fort Belvoir. While they suffer and bleed overseas only to come home riddled with trauma, I was making a pretty penny working in air conditioned cubicles. Meanwhile, CEOs of companies like Academi (formerly Blackwater), Boeing and Northrup Grumman are making hundreds of millions of dollars. How do we abide this level of evil?
I gave Justin my contact information and told him to reach out to me. I smiled at him, shook his hand and told him to endure like a good soldier. As I walked away, my blood boiled and I felt my heart on fire as I seethed in anger. How do we allow this? How do we stand by and watch as the military-financial complex loosens hell upon the planet in order to inflate the profits of warmongers only to do nothing as veterans–who come back snapped in half by PTSD and war terrors–become invisible citizens in the very nation they signed up to serve and protect. Meanwhile, politicians, pundits and media personalities–all who are on the dole of the plutocracy–wave flags in public only to spit on the honor of veterans in private while they count their millions.
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) March 5, 2019
Samuel Johnson once noted that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel; he had it half right, patriotism is also the first abode of warmongers. What broke my heart is watching Justin, who I could tell is a proud man who hates pleading for money, hesitating to ask me for help. He was about to tell me why he was doing this at which point I stopped Justin and told him that I too was once broke and homeless. He did not owe me an explanation. What I did for him was not some courageous act of benevolence, I spent four times as much money at an Ethiopian restaurant this weekend than the couple of dollars I invested to feed a man who was truly hungry.
As I boarded the metro, tears flooded my eyes as sorrow enveloped my heart. I am eternally grateful that I am no longer homeless; from being alone in Greenville, Des Moines, Nashville and Wellington, I am now married to a blessed wife named Bethlehem and expecting a son in June. My story is not one of brokenness, it is one of redemption. Yet, full happiness eludes me. Each time I drive past a homeless person, each time I walk past a panhandler, I am reminded that I too was once there. This sadness is magnified by factors when the homeless I encounter are women or veterans.
It doesn’t have to be this way; if we had leaders who served the people instead of serpents who bleed humanity, we could have a modicum of serenity and equality in this world. Instead, we have hyenas on both sides of the political aisle and jackals within the media-politico complex who are more interested in enriching themselves than they are in helping out the least among us. The sad thing is that these empty souls who insist on accumulating money while the rest of us multiply our sorrows are not happy either; the more they attain, the more they get subsumed by despondency.
Greed is a bottomless pit that can never be filled with money or possessions.
It is my hope that Justin in fact reaches out to me. When he does, it is my hope that someone reading this or one of my friends or family members can help empower him and lead him out of the distressing situation he currently finds himself in. Don’t give him charity as in giving him a couple of dollars and walking away. Arm him with hope and the know-how to do a specialized work, and I know he can more than do his part. Leathernecks are tenacious doers and are dedicated professionals, a big OORAH to all Marines (don’t worry I won’t call you soldiers) and a big thank you to all active duty personnel and veterans throughout the world.
I wrote this article in the past is dedicated to you and this interview with Vietnam War veteran Rick Belt was conducted during my time of homelessness in Colorado. Lastly, this poem below that was inspired by my run-ins with countless veterans. I pray for the comfort of all who put on the uniform; my stance against the powerful who sit at the policy table and push war upon the world is not a stance against those who serve. God bless your souls. #Matthew59 Click To Tweet
“Endure hardness, as a good soldier.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:3
Today, instead of asking you to contribute to the Ghion Journal, I ask you to contribute to an association that strives to take care of wounded veterans. The Wounded Warrior Project is a non-profit that is dedicated dedicated to identifying and helping active duty military personnel and veterans who suffer from the horrible tolls of war. Please consider making a contribution to the Wounded Warrior Project by clicking HERE or on the logo below.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.