When I am juggling school visits, I usually park my car on a narrow, pot-hole infested street. I grab my cell phone, unload the 2-3 bags I lug around each day and tip toe across the street– eyeing every step. Learning to walk at the age of TWO, plus living in a city that has “Fix My Streets” as pleading hymns that dot front lawns, means that it is QUITE possible that I may succumb to a gaping hole in the street. Not today. Today, I waved to an elderly man with baseball hat resting on his head and an orange leaf blower in his left hand. Immediately, I note the “II” numerals the gold font, and noticed his glasses crooked in the morning light. The veins in his hands snaked up through his arms. A map of sorrows, joys.
“Thank you for your service, s—,” I began. He fluttered his hand as to dismiss me with a smile.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, ma’am. I prayed and prayed. God, see he protected me. He kept me out of the line of duty. I worked inventory. That kept me safe.”
We talked for a bit–about about today’s generation, about change.. And then, I proceeded, ignorantly to assert a request of sorts..”You should come visit our kids. Tell your story. They could learn so much from you. From your experience at war.”
Shaking his head he offers, “Those kids..No one wants to hear that. Everyone is worried about the wrong things. We don’t work together. We don’t help each other. It’s a different time.. Now.”
I bite my lip. Look at my feet. I have nothing. I want to tell him that’s he’s got it all wrong. That my bleeding heart confuses reality for me sometimes. I can hear my dad’s rants about politicians not working across the aisle, about egos, cell phones, the internet, failing schools, violence, self-interest corroding America–a collective gift of ills.
“You know, I was sitting here swinging this morning, just watching the birds. He stops and shakes his left hand toward the street. He continues, gesturing to the stone wall mistaken for a curb, but they wasn’t just worrying about their own self. They was tossing crumbs around. And when they got spooked, they flew off-together. I learned something from those birds this morning.”
“You did, did you?” I say, with an expected smile.
“I did. I learned that we must look after one another. That we are better together than alone. We knew this when we were at war. We looked out for one another. There was no surviving otherwise. Sure, I had God, I had the Holy Ghost, and by God I prayed to him every darn day. That’s what did it for me. It was the Holy Ghost. He still in me. He allowed me to come home. To have ten children, God bless them. He kept me outta war. I saw a lot. Don’t really like talking about it none.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “And here a complete stranger is making you remember.”
“I’m Montgomery,” he offers his hand to me.
“Jodi, sir,” as I take it, patting the map of his veins.
“Well, Miss Jodi. Remember the Holy Ghost. He in you, just like he in me. He is. He is,” nodding to himself he goes on, “I just wish everyone knew that see? See there some kids that don’t know that. My momma didn’t know it. My daddy didn’t none know it either. No sir. They thought I was an odd one, ‘ole Montgomery, but I knew see? He’s in me. Like he in you. If more people knew that, I reckon we’d work together just a little more. Not be so afraid of each other.”
Indeed, sir. Indeed.