My first meeting with “Tony” was in the parking lot of a Super-8 motel. I thought it odd he listing a post office box as his address, and he was adamant about meeting somewhere other than his home. It took me about 2 minutes to realize that the SUV Tony was driving was his home. I saw the Marine decal on his side window and he wore a black hat that spelled out “Vietnam Veteran” in bold, capital yellow letters. As he leaned out of the truck, his walking stick assisted him and I could see the hospital ID bracelet still on his thin left wrist. Tony was frail and almost toppled over twice in the 10 minutes we spent together.
I was sent there by the insurance company to assess collision damages to his SUV. Because we are about the same age, I felt at ease talking to Tony, a connection that came comfortably. I asked him about his situation. He explained that the bank had foreclosed on his house and that he was homeless. He admitted to having a brother on Long Island, but seemed dismissive of contacting him. We didn’t get into his medical details but clearly, Tony was in rough shape, but a battle-toughened Marine, far from giving up. I asked Tony if he had a relationship with God. He told me that he had lost his faith over the years. I told Tony that even if he had given up on God, God had not given up on him. I encouraged him to find a good, local church. I shed a few tears as I left, at the same time grateful for my life but frustrated that I couldn’t do something more for Tony.
I knew he and I weren’t finished even before I said good-bye to him after our first encounter. Sure enough, a month later, I was assigned to meet with him once again.
When I called to make the appointment, Tony said, “I’ve been thinking about something you said to me and I want to talk to you more about it.” Encouraged, I called the local social services clearing house for some information about homeless vets and whatever other services might be available. Before meeting Tony in that same parking lot as last time, I met with the staff people at the clearinghouse and they loaded me up with brochures, information and applications for a variety of assistance.
After exchanging greetings and some small talk, I asked Tony what he wanted to talk about. I was curious as to what I might have said to him the last time that had stuck with him. Tony told me that he had lost his faith when his 37-year-old wife died of cancer. I told him that the lack of an explanation about such things shakes everyone’s faith. I told Tony that I had no idea what God was doing nor could I offer any explanation, except to say to him again that even if he had given up on God, I was sure that God had not given up on him. I told Tony that he and I were put together like this for a reason.
I handed over the paperwork and put it into Tony’s SUV. I told him that I thought that there was lots of help around him; he just needed to reach out and accept it. As I shook Tony’s hand, I pressed a 20-dollar bill into it and I told him that God was watching over us all and to work on rebuilding his faith by finding a good church.
I left the parking lot once again with tears in my eyes, but this time, with a glint of hope.