Stories of Kindness from Around the World

Homeless Man Who Wouldn't Shoot

--by RishiO, posted Jun 20, 2011

I watched from a distance as the homeless man bickered at those who did not leave money for him – the majority.

I walked up to him and right on queue he asked me for a quarter. “I’ll give you a quarter if you tell me your story.” He laughed, “You’ll give me a quarter for my story?” I lay the quarter in front him and corrected myself – “Nah, here's the quarter but it would be nice to hear your story.” I followed his eyes to the quarter and for a brief moment I saw a glimmer of reflection. I sat down next to him and waited.

“I was in the army,” he said. “Was a sniper – was supposed to shoot down the enemy from the distance.” I listened intently to his grizzly voice as he dwelled deeper into the story. He wore dirty old rags and smelled like a dead rat left in a mouse trap. He told me how he used to hunt with his family and was really good at it. He had his own way of respecting animals by not wasting what he killed for food and not killing more than he needed. When the army came knocking on his door, he felt pride and joined up. All those years of honing his hunting skills could now serve a larger purpose - to defend us from the bad guys. He set out to fight in Iraq.

It wasn't long before he realized his ideals and expectations were just a shadow of the truth. He became disillusioned with the killings, that he felt were of innocent people. “I was a sniper but I never really killed anyone,” he said. “One day I had to do it. They asked me to shoot this lady from the distance. I saw kids near that lady and my hands were on the trigger. Man I was tearing up ... I couldn’t do it. She wasn't doing anything to anyone and she was with the kids -- I couldn't see through my tears. It just didn’t make any sense to me.”

The story goes on as he describes eventually being put into jail for 180 days for refusing to follow orders. He told me how he was black listed so that he couldn’t get a job. All the rights we take for granted were stripped from him. Why? The irony of it swirled through my head. Here was a man who was being punished – and for what? For refusing to kill the the lady? For being a hero? “I have no regrets,” the homeless man said. “I may be homeless now, but I never killed that lady. I never killed no one in the army. It didn’t feel right. I didn’t go there to do that. I went there to save people.” He continued, “I can live with being homeless – that’s okay. But I wouldn’t be able to live with killing innocent people.”

On that lonely Friday night, I met a hero. It just never occurred to me that a hero could be a smelly, bickering old man left on streets.

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Readers Comments

Tammy wrote: Who is the original author of this story?
Gilgenbach wrote: Hi mark. You have the right to your opinion, but it would be kinder if you didn't refer to them as "nuts," just because they believe in someone you don't believe in.

We all have free will to choose between right and wrong, to show compassion or to show the cold shoulder. It reflects good on us to do good by god.

Besides, does it really matter to you personally who got the credit as long as good was done?
mark wrote: Why is it that religious nuts have to lay claim to the very real genetic tendency of humans to show compassion to each other? I don't see any 'god' nor did the writer or story teller mention any religious tenet. Yet at least four comments have to placard the ownership of a god, it totally demeans an otherwise clearly human and potentially admirable aspect of being human. Plus i have to agree with frank, his refusal based on any belief could have easily cost fellow americans their own lives. Unless he of course went and interviewed any of the prospective targets , this remains ambiguous. But. I embrace his compassion.
Christina wrote: God bless this man for doing the right thing! Despite his circumstances i pray that god will turn his life around.
Allen wrote: Thank you so much for sharing this story!
JanWantsRockies wrote: I am delighted to hear someone else say the homeless are human. I want to talk to advocates. Lets all of us housing, hunger,violence and imposed silence activist call for a livable pay. Or 140 times the month rent each week.
joanna wrote: This is what it means to be human, supremely human! God bless this man, how can i reach him? Many thanks and many blessings, joanna
kim wrote: The moral of the store, never judge a book by its cover. God wraps some of the best things in the worse packages.
rishio wrote: You have a valid point frank. I didn't even post the story here - i just posted it on my own personal blog. I am not a journalist - just listened to what he said and felt compelled to write about what he told me. Other, not-so-sexy ones i've done, aren't as popular. To be honest, the ordinary stories that don't stand out are the most interesting to me. Maybe because i can relate to that more. I like the stuff most people ignore. Anyway - i truly believed what this guy said, but i also think it raises questions for those that dare to spoil it's perfection and look deeper.
Frank Parmir wrote: The story is a great parable of compassion for the enemy. But, it defames the us military. I can imagine several scenarios to explain his estrangement from the military that don't leave the us seeming to be the heavy.

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