To Boast or Not to Boast?
I am a Soldier. I am a Father. I am a Christian. I strive to do good in this world, but recently I did just that and felt very apprehensive about sharing the experience with anyone except, well, myself.
That brings me to Colorado this past Friday. I flew into Denver with the intention of going straight to Leadville, renting a snowboard, then hitting the slopes for the remainder of the weekend. However, other bigger plans were in store for me. After diverting, and spending an hour at a bank in Golden to finalize some business arrangements for my music career, I took a long left turn out of the parking lot and was stuck at a red light.
Off to my left was a lonely, old man sitting solemnly on the brick retaining wall adjacent to the bank. He had his head down, sketching on a notepad. At his feet lay a cardboard sign with the words: “Homeless veteran. Will work.”
He was not panhandling or approaching cars or people, he was sitting with his notepad and pencil, drawing. Upon seeing this, I decided to U-turn, bought a couple bottles of water, and sat down next to him on the brick wall. He was weathered and gray; the kind of wrinkles that come with working outdoors for long hours; he was in his late fifties, I guessed.
He seemed somewhat relieved to see someone new talking with him as he set his sketch pad aside. He introduced himself, and I began asking him about his military service. Knowing many people throw the term “Veteran” around, I felt obligated to validate his service, as I take this very seriously.
He was a Marine, worked in intelligence, and had been out since the 1980s. Then the real story continued: His wife had died the year before, he had been kicked out of his home, and still had another week before the VA sent him his next check.
For the last three weeks he had been living with a friend in a gas station bathroom. In Colorado. In the winter.
As we talked more, and he warmed up to me, he began to tear up as he spoke about his friend who was a transsexual, born a man, and was living as a woman because she was born with an extra chromosome. Her parents couldn’t accept this.
To be honest, I never understood the “tran” thing, but as a Christian I do not judge people because everyone has a story we know nothing about, and this time was no different. He said his friend was a few blocks down cleaning up in a public restroom. I stated that we should do something about their predicament and asked if they knew of any hotels nearby? He said he did, and then his friend approached us. Her head was down, she had manly stubble on her face, but clearly had breasts and made no attempt to make eye contact with me. I could see she was not trusting of strangers, and probably for good reason. But I was not there to do anything but help, and hopefully give them a renewal of their faith in humanity.
As my new friend explained to her that I was about to offer them a hotel, she could still not bring herself to look up at me. It seemed too good to be true, I supposed. What were my real intentions she must have been thinking?
I didn’t care how she was born and how she was living, I just wanted to help but she couldn’t seem to accept that yet, I thought to myself. As it started to sink in that I was trying to help them both, without conditions, there was an eerie calm. Moving away, she went to get her things a few blocks away. We loaded up and headed down the road to a nearby motel.
I prepaid for a two-bedroom room for a week and as they opened the door and sat in a warm room they were taking it all in like it still wasn’t real. But, this wasn’t enough for me: I needed to help them to the best of my ability.
Next, we went to Walmart and I told them to get a large basket and fill it up with a week’s worth of food. After a few aisles they said they were done. No, I got the big basket for a reason! I told them to keep shopping for foods that would subsist them, not to think about price, and I meant it. Razors, socks, veggies, lunch meat, sodas, bread-all of it went to checkout.
I handed my phone to my new Marine friend so he could call his mom and tell her he was ok since his phone had no minutes. I bought them both prepaid Visa cards to recharge their phones. They kept thanking me, and while I truly appreciated it, I asked them to stop because they shouldn’t thank me for doing something good. If only we could all help one another out and have that be the norm rather than the exception, this world would be in much better shape. In any case, we returned to the hotel and after a few tears we parted ways. But the story doesn’t end there.
I was barely five feet out of the hotel room when a man approached me from two doors down. The maid’s cart was parked in front of his room, the door was ajar, and his wife was standing back looking at us.
This man had three lip rings and an earring, visibly malnourished, with a discontent in his eyes. He stated that the hotel was kicking him and his wife out because they could no longer afford to stay. Now my mind is racing: After what I just did to help those other two wonderful souls, when is enough…enough?
But, as I listened I could tell he too was genuine, not a panhandler looking for quick cash, and asking for help in front of his wife must have been exceedingly difficult, a feeling that I can appreciate as a father of two. I asked them back in their room so we could chat some more.
They both explained they were former drug addicts, had just moved to Colorado from Nebraska, and were just on hard times. They had a mountain of bags filled with clothing and other items from their move. They never asked me for money. All they did was state their situation.
The husband told me he was starting work on Monday with a job that paid cash daily. It was Friday, they had no place to stay, no food, no help. And seemingly no hope. I looked down and nodded and asked them if they wanted to get a hotel room and they said yes, but that they would prefer somewhere else.
We loaded up and headed to another motel, and I prepaid for them for a week. Next we went to lunch, and the wife explained that she was anemic; which I could tell by the color (and lack thereof) of her skin. Sitting down, we all held hands and prayed over our first meal together.
I was thankful I was at that hotel, at that moment, as they were being evicted to help them out of a jam. So many other events could have brought me elsewhere that day, but here we were. And here I was, helping a couple in need. After ten minutes at the table devouring Chinese food I could see color coming back to her face.
They told me their stories: Drugs, children, successful jobs, more drugs, broken relationships, lost jobs, probation, the list goes on. I deeply felt for them, but their love for each other was tangible. They were Christians, and committed at that to God and each other. I was convinced that these were people I wanted in my life.
His dream was to run a restaurant again (he’s a classically trained Chef) and she wanted to open a dual-purpose homeless shelter and animal rescue mutually supporting one another. I was blown away; what a great idea! I could see the humanity, faith, and love in their voices and in their hearts. After another trip to Walmart with the big basket filled again, we unloaded at their hotel and I left them in the middle of unloading their groceries.
Next came the thought that I shouldn’t tell anyone about what I just did for those four wonderful people because it would seem, to me, like boasting, patting myself on the back. Seeking recognition for doing a good thing where I wanted credit for being seen as a “good” person.
It reminded me of the New York Don in the Godfather Part II who pinned the largest bill to the Virgin Mary during the Catholic parade, slyly looking around with his hand in the air acknowledging everyone who saw him being the most ‘charitable’ as a young Vito Corleone stalked him. I didn’t want to look or feel like the ‘Don’. I had much to learn that weekend.
Twenty-four hours later I was trying to get myself a playing gig at a bar in Leadville and ended up talking for almost two hours with a local who blew my understanding of goodness right out of the water. As we spoke and I got to know her better, I decided to relay my story from the day before. I explained that I didn’t want to boast about it, because I didn’t want anyone thinking I gave and helped these people to make myself look like a Saint.
In turn, she exclaimed that what I did is exactly the reason why I should tell other people about it! Good things are too few and far between, and people need to know about your story, and theirs she said. So, I’ve written about my good deeds not for myself, but to boast for everything God has taught me about giving. He has always taken care of me, so swiping my card a few times doesn’t mean he will suddenly leave me high and dry. I had to reminded myself of that, but in doing so I saw the most profound looks of hope and faith on four people’s faces that were homeless strangers just the day before. And now we will be friends for a lifetime.
Later on, I was invited to play at the Scarlet Tavern in Leadville the following Monday (Jan. 30 @4:30 p.m.) and I’m looking forward to singing and playing my guitar and sharing my life stories with whomever will listen. While this is another story in my life, I am sure that my crossing paths with my new friends was a turning point in their lives as well. And for that, I wanted to share and boast that good is still alive and well.
Alex J. Longo is a musician, veteran, Christian, father and now a Leadville Today Contributor. Welcome to the family!