It means something, although I’ll admit that I don’t know what, when I push my folded up bill into their clear, plastic container with a rectangular-shaped hole cut in the top.
It means something, when the tall, slim man with the bright face says, “here” and hands me a small plastic flower. I know that later I’ll put it in my hair.
I don’t know what these men are doing here, outside the Wal-mart all lined up like day workers. There are maybe a dozen of these weathered men. They stand around a large folding table with a variety of military logo ball caps stacked neatly in rows. They smile at me and nod their heads in recognition as I walked past them the first time. They look me in the eyes when they tell me to have a good afternoon.
It is like they have recognized me in a way that I would not have recognized them. I could say, cynically, that they just have good P.R., but I don’t believe that.
He says to me, “You deserve a hug—or, maybe I deserve the hug,” and we both laugh, but he has taken the breath out of me with his warm smile and the kind look in his eyes. This man, all these men, have done something for me. I just don’t know what.
I become mute because I do not have words for these people, my elders, who are standing outside a Wal-mart, asking for donations in trade for ball caps behind a banner proclaiming “VETERANS OF THE VIETNAM WAR.”
And, let me be clear, I do not feel pity, but awe.
The hardest thing for me to do is accept any kindness, so I know that it is hypocritical that the thing I want the most is for people to be kind to one another. I know how hard that can feel. We get trapped in the tiny things and that makes it hard to really feel.
And I know. I have been swindled, have felt swindled, have tried to shut the door on trust. But sometimes, you just have to give.
Sometimes you just have to give in.
I don’t know these men or their politics, and I don’t care. I am unfamiliar with the organization they might represent—I don’t even know if there is such an organization. But, in this instance, I don’t care. Loving, giving and receiving care, matter more than my pride.
Maybe this is the thing they have given me, maybe this is the thing I have seen with my eyes and felt on my skin and in my heart.
So, when I give this man a hug, I hug him as if he is family, because, right now, he is.