GRATITUDE TO FORGOTTEN VETERANS
Around 7 o’clock in the morning, I arrived at Pershing Square where my class would meet for the field trip to Skid Row. Since it was still early; I set my GPS to Skid Row and drove by the area. My heart was about to stop because I could not believe what I saw along the sidewalks of San Julian Street from 4th Street to 6th Street. There were hundreds of soiled fabrics or plastic tarps covering “cardboard made beds” surrounded by wheeled carts piling up with blankets, filthy clothes. Every corner of those blocks was occupied with homeless people covering themselves with ragged blankets. Skid Row, the town for homeless people is only a short walking distance from the flower wholesale area I have visited at least once a month for the last three years, but I had never realized that I was this close to abject poverty.
Since then, I hardly sleep through my nights. Every time I close my eyes, I cannot get my mind off what I saw at Skid Row. Then, the touching documentary film “the 5th Street Homeless in LA” made by John Gilbert with music background “On the Nickel” written by Tom Waits, plays over and over in my head.[i] The smell of urination and dirty clothes still bothers my nose. My classmates’ chat about the reality of Vietnam Vets during the walk through Skid Row made me wonder whether somewhere of Skid Row, there are any soldiers who used to stay at the Army Base across my house in Vietnam.
I do not remember their names, their faces. In my fading memories, those American soldiers who always looked solemn in the uniforms and joyful with their smiles, were heroes because after they left Southern Vietnam, our lives had dramatically changed. Now I recalled they visited my neighbors every Sunday. Sometimes, they asked my dad’s permission to give my brothers and me chewing gum, candy, and take us around the neighborhood. I guess that they missed their families and their kids. They left; we lost our freedom and happiness. The country fell in the Communist hands.
After they left, I never thought of what they had been through after returning home. Who would remember them? I used to think that the monument of two life-sized bronze soldiers representing the US Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam in . It is beautiful work Vietnamese Refugee Communities did to show our gratitude for their sacrifices. Now, I know there are more we should do about our gratitude because there were many veterans who were surviving from Vietnam War but struggling with unhealed wounds left in their heart and mind.
What about those who are still alive, who now live with mental illness, with alcohol or drug abuse from depression, with the poverty just a few blocks away from the tall luxury business buildings in downtown Los Angeles? They are out of sight so that there was no political pressure from the public to do anything about it.[ii]
Speaking of the Four Noble Truth, let’s consider what these veterans’ sufferings are? They are alcoholic and drug dependence, mental illness, hunger, cold, wet etc…. What caused their sufferings? We can say the involvement of drug or alcohol was their choice, but we should understand addiction is not the only reason they are here in Skid Row. There is mental illness, PTSD etc… It is the responsibilities of the mainstream that put them through the terrible wars. Later, they have been forgotten and got very little attention from the system.
After fifteen minutes to meditate and reflect on the trip, a homeless guy approached my group and I was picked as “the best meditate practitioner of the group”. Although I felt so funny about that, I still answered his question “According to Buddhism, what part of the human body the mind comes from?” I told him maybe the brain or the heart. Then, I confirmed it was the brain. Until now, I believe it must be both the brain and the heart together in my Buddhist view[iii]. Wisdom should blossom from compassion and strong will in order to attain freedom from sufferings[iv]. These homeless in Skid Row really should be freed from their daily sufferings. They need our hearts and mind together to make a difference for their days. The Midnight Mission and LA Mission are already handful, but still not enough.
The sky and the earth are immense. My arms are so tiny to embrace the poor. My heart is sobbing every time it is windy or rainy outside. I visualize thousands of homeless poor people out there are soaking and shivering if they are unable to find some places to spend the night at Skid Row. I feel so helpless.
[ii] http://www.marketplace.org/topics/wealth-poverty/skid-row-was-las-solution-homelessness-now-thats-changing by David Weinberg, Marketplace for Tuesday, March 19, 2013
[iii] http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/mind/01_chap1.htm. The Mind in Early Buddhism by Bikkhu Thich Minh Thanh, New Delhi 2001.
- Skid Row: “A Very Cool Place” (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- Whose Kamma Is It, Anyway? A Reflection on a Visit to Skid Row (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- Reframing Transformation by Anny Shi (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- The Dangers of Alcohol and Drugs “The Fifth Precept” (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- Reflections on Skid Row, Los Angeles, California, March 2013 (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- What Does the Theravāda Buddhist Religion Have to Say about the Poverty on Skid Row? (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- Compassion on Skid Row (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- Skid Row: Reality and Hope (dharmadialogue.wordpress.com)
- Life on the streets of LA (observer-reporter.com)