Sitting at a traffic light on an overpass, I was grateful to have risen above the heavy traffic I’d fought since leaving Charlotte. As I gazed mindlessly at the cars, trucks and general nothingness that one sees when their mind has numbed from hours on the road, my eyes locked on a man sitting to my right at the end of the exit ramp.
He was not alone. When cars exited the freeway and pulled to a stop, he stood and coached his dog through a series of tricks. Drivers handed money out the window as payment for the great show. The pup jumped up snatched the bills from their hands. The show repeated until the light turned green. Then the dog immediately stopped, sat down at his master’s feet as he sat back down on his duffle bag awaiting the next group of cars.
I could not believe what I witnessed and could not resist the opportunity to meet this man. Fortunately there was a truck stop a half block away so I wheeled my rig in and walked back up to the intersection. I stared deep into his eyes and saw a pride that had been wounded by life and its bullets that pierced his heart.
His name was Walter. He could have been my brother, or my uncle, my grandfather or father. Years ago, he’d stood in line to sacrifice his life for my freedom. He laced on boots, picked up a gun and went off to fight. The war had not been kind to him. When he returned to the greatest nation in the world, he found it difficult to adjust and walked away from life as he knew it.
Today Walter and Gigi the wonder dog live in the woods and entertain passersby for a living. He’s happy living a simple life. No worries. No deadlines or stress. No one shoots at him or ridicules him for his work. He just shares his day with his dog and total strangers. He’s living HIS American dream.
Walter, I salute you. Thank you for ensuring that America remains free. Gigi, my hat’s off to you. Your spirit made my heart soar.
Everyone has a story. When you see someone on the side of the road at an intersection, don’t look the other way. Don’t judge them. They could have fought for you so you can drive that fancy car and have the right to self expression, albeit turning your nose up at someone you don’t even know. Remember that is a person who is dealing with real challenges in life. Never forget that except by the grace of God, any of us could be there. Walter was not a vagabond. He is a war hero. He fought for us in Iraq not once but twice. When I look at him, I don’t see a homeless man. Now that I took the time to learn his story, I see a soldier and his dog.