Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Two Cents

A man walked up to me and asked me for two cents. He looked like he was about late 20's, early 30's, tall and thin, with dark hair. He wore a marines hat, a black t-shirt, and black pants.

I was standing outside The Historic New Orleans Collection waiting for my next class to start. I was in New Orleans to attend the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, and was taking a series of Master Classes. Now, normally, I would just ignore someone asking me for money on the street (even though I like to think I'm a kind and giving person), but I couldn't ignore him. I came out of myself.

I said, "Two cents?" He said, "Yes, two cents." I asked, "Literally, two cents?" He said yes, again. He said if I gave him two cents, and other people gave him two cents, maybe he would end up with a dollar. He told me he was homeless, hadn't eaten all day, and just wanted a cup of coffee.

"What's your name?" I asked. "My name's Todd. What's yours?" he said. "My name is Amy. Nice to meet you," I said.

I asked him if he lived in New Orleans. "Yes, Mam, " he said, "But, I'm hoping to go home on Monday." Todd explained that he was a marine from Florida who served two years overseas, and when he returned home, he followed the love of a girl that left him homeless, loveless, and lost. He told me he made bad choices and wished he never left home, but that he now knew what he had to do.

For some reason, I needed to hear his story. There was a loneliness in him that was a transparent honesty. I told myself, whatever the case may be, he fought for me, my loved ones, and my country. I at least owed him two seconds of my time.

As we stood on the street, I mentally battled with my heart and mind over what was the right thing to do.  Todd then looked at me and said something that hit me like a lightening bolt; quickly giving me my answer.

He told me that even though he felt like he lost everything, one thing he never lost through it all was God. God. I fell further out of myself. I had recently been working on my relationship with God, and low and behold, there he was, possibly standing right in front of me in the form of a stranger. I knew I had to give him more than two cents.

I gave him a dollar and said that I wished I could give him more, but that was all the cash I had on me. That was a lie. I wanted to help him, but I was scared of the moment I was having. I just couldn't let him walk away though with only a dollar. My heart was telling me to do more, but my mind was telling me that I still had to be cautious.

I offered to buy him a cup of coffee with my debit card. We walked down to Antoine's on Royal Street. I asked him if he would like something to eat. He seemed scared, or shocked, and hesitated to say yes, even though I knew he wanted to. I was impressed by his manners, but I insisted, and he eventually ordered an eclair.

Todd told me he had owned a tarot table and had been reading cards to make money, but someone stole his kit the night before. Todd said that in spite of what he was going through, he still hadn't lost faith in humanity. He said that he still thought God was good, and that having fought two years of war, you have to know God in order to survive.

He told me he was near death many times, and had hearing loss in his left ear from grenades and explosions, and that he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

All I could think was, what a shame it is, that these men are giving their lives to keep us safe, and how was it that so many of our veterans coming home end up like this? This is not the first time I had seen, or heard of a modern day veteran ending up on the street, and it's not always because of what people usually think (it seems many people are quick to stereotype people who end up homeless because of drug addiction, but that is not always the case).

I had been struggling with this epidemic for some time now, and maybe this was God's way of validating my feelings. But maybe, just maybe, it was God's way of letting Todd know that there are people in this world that appreciate and honor his soul. Even a mere stranger, who he had to humbly ask for two of her cents.

He said to me that he wished he didn't come all this way to New Orleans to find out that what he was looking for was always at home. I told him that sometimes, when you go down a lonely road that leads you far from home, it's the only way you'll find out where your home really is.

Todd asked me for just two cents, and in return he gave me a lifetime of understanding that will last forever in my heart. I wonder now, when was the last time that someone just asked him his name?

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