Leaving town after shopping at Walmart, I noticed a woman approaching each car as they stopped for the traffic light. Judging from her neat clothes, she was not a typical homeless person. She carried about a dozen flower bouquets of four roses a piece. According to her cardboard sign, all proceeds went to support her family of four.
Despite her well-groomed appearance, she was, indeed, homeless, an Afghan refugee in Washington State for regional resettlement. A collective guilt washed over me for leaving Afghanistan in dangerous disarray, at our responsibility for her predicament.
Lowering the passenger window, I handed her a bill of disproportionate denomination. She looked at me, face breaking into a broad smile, the unspoken contract to resolve her children’s hunger fulfilled for another day. She showed no bitterness, an example of the power of acceptance.
My reflection turned to Afghanistan. I thought of a friend, a former marine, who had completed two combat tours in Afghanistan after experiencing a pair of combat deployments to Iraq. Now a fully functional civilian, he radiated a powerful, righteous resentment that, in some intangible way, we had not been straight with him. I had to agree.
Eyes cast down to the road before me, I thought of those Veterans home in body and mind, but still fighting desperate battles of a trauma left unchecked by a society that didn’t want accountability for war’s devastation.
We all wrestle with unseen daemons, literal Godsends of spiritual enrichment stigmatized to invisibility by a cultural consumerism that leaves us bland and unfeeling. Acknowledging the suffering of another as being their unique cross to bear, terribly beautiful in authenticity, allows for the engagement of a kindred spirit, soothing the lost, comforting the broken.
Still driving, the pained confusion of a generation’s misplaced destiny joined my imagination with a grateful refugee’s smile in a communal charity of tears, my humble tribute to all touched by war’s struggle.
The mutual gift of kindness is real, even in the land of Walmart.