“I like your hat,” she said. Lisa had called to me across the parking lot. I was on my way to ask her and her companion if they knew anyone who needed food, but saw that they had some food, drinks, and bicycles. I thought, perhaps is should look farther afield, I might find someone in greater need. But, when she called after me, I went to her.

Lisa was sitting with her boyfriend Hillbilly. Street people often use nicknames, using one’s real name can sometimes become a disadvantage…or downright dangerous. Hillbilly and I got to talking, and I asked him if he would mind if I drew his portrait. He smiled a casual smile. The kind of smile that is wider than it is long because the gums come together where the teeth once were. “I ain’t never had my picture drawn before,” he said with a note of trepidation in his voice, but enough curiosity pushed him over the dam and he acquiesced.

He asked me what I was about, and I told him I had just finished running across the US for world peace. He said, “Yes, I remember you were down here a year ago drawing people’s pictures, and you was a going on some kinda pilgrimage ‘er sumpin.”

“Yes,” I said, “I ran from Seattle to San Diego, and San Diego to Savannah, Ga. But, I decided to put down roots here in Eugene, and to the best of my ability, try to foster and manifest peace on earth.”

Hillbilly and I got to talking. He said that he had come out to Oregon on a freight train. He had wanted to see Oregon for most of his life, and when he got here, he couldn’t rightly leave. His wife of many years was a full blooded Chippewa Indian, and he confessed that she was “might powerful” visionary or dreamer. She seemed to always have a feeling for how things were supposed to go down. One night she awoke from a dream with a start, turned to Hillbilly and said, “I had a vision, you are supposed to jump a train and ride to see Oregon.”

So he did what any good man would do, he listened to his wife.

After he got here to Oregon, his wife was struck by a car. Her brain was dead, her body only alive because of machines. His brother had to give the order to pull the plug.

Hillbilly still mourns her loss. In two weeks will be their anniversary. He said it is the holidays that are the hardest. But he realizes that somehow the universe spoke through her. It sent him away. He would not have been able to do what his brother did, he realizes now that being so far away and being helpless to a certain extent…was really a blessing.

Hillbilly is fighting for his own life now. He is on chemotherapy. Chemo is hard enough as it is, I can’t imagine experiencing it while on the street. I asked how his chemo was being funded, he said that he has some VA benefits, and that there is a generous doctor in town that helps the sick, the hurting, and the dying. People like him.

Hillbilly was in the Airborne infantry. He fought in Vietnam, Panama, and Nicaragua. He said he was part of a 6-man elite team. All of them trained, worked, and deployed together. Thankfully, all of them made it home. Hillbilly said some people call him a hero, “No,” he said, “The heroes are the guys who’s names are on a wall. I’m just one of the lucky one’s that gets to tell the stories of their bravery.”

It seems so easy to pass some homeless people by on our way to Starbucks. So easy to think less of them for their condition. Our media would like us to wag our fingers and shout, “Shame on you” and “Get a Job”.

However, it is far easier to shame them when they are indecipherable amongst the anonymous horde. But, when you know them, you know their story, who among us could do it better? Anyone want to go for a round of chemo while living under a bridge?

Who am I to have so much while others have so little?

 

It all begins with gratitude. I for one am grateful for Hillbilly.

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