Everybody is fighting a battle worth writing about.

The best stories yet unwritten are hiding in the lives of strangers.
The best stories yet unwritten are hiding in the lives of strangers.

I SIT AND WATCH them. They are lost in their own little worlds and fighting their own internal battles.  Mostly they are simply lost.

And nobody knows.

I talk to them when I can.

Sometimes in airports.

Sometimes on park benches.

Sometimes at church.

Few want to talk.

But smile.

Say hello.

Let them know you’re glad they came your way.

And they can’t wait to tell you their story.

They don’t mind confessing to a stranger.

The lady was middle-aged and professional.

No doubt about it.

Fashionable suit.

High heels.

A big diamond ring on the right finger.

Laughter that sounded like music.

Her briefcase was new leather.

Nothing wrong with her, I thought. She’s got the world whipped. She’s on her way to the top and maybe already there.

I didn’t know it, but there were tears in her heart. Those are the tears that never show.

It’s my son, she said.

“How old?”

“Seventeen.”

She showed me a photograph.

“Good looking boy,” I said.

“Car wreck,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

“He wasn’t killed.”

Her eyes moistened.

“He’ll never walk again,” she said.

I nodded.

“His brain is damaged,” she said.

She wiped her eyes.

“He might as well be dead,” she said. “I was driving.”

She turned away, stared at her reflection in the window, and waited for the plane.

I met the old man in an all-night diner.

I was new in town.

He said he had lived there all his life.

His khaki trousers were starched and pressed. His white shirt had been washed too many times and was yellowed. He wore striped suspenders and a baseball cap.

I glanced at the icon stitched on the cap and asked, “You a Detroit fan?”

“Never been there.”

I tried again.

“You a baseball fan?”

“Never played the game,” he said.

He laughed.

“I found the cap,” he said. “Guy left it in the diner last week. Just finished his eggs, wiped his mouth, stood up, walked away, and left it on the counter.”

“You stop him?” I asked.

The old man shook his head.

“He probably needed his cap,” I said.

“Why?”

The old man laughed again.

“It wasn’t raining,” he said.

He bought me a cup of coffee.

He wanted to talk some more.

“You a vet?” I asked, trying to make conversation.

“Vietnam.”

“It wasn’t a good war,” I said.

“I lost some good friends,” he said.

“We all did.”

“I didn’t see them die,” he said, “but I heard them.”

I waited.

He stared out the window and watched the train pass by.

“I was in communications,” he said. “We had the radio down in the hole when the Viet Cong attacked us. There was a bunch of them. There weren’t many of us. Gunfire. That’s all I heard. And men screaming. And men crying. And men dying. Fight didn’t last but fifteen minutes, maybe less. My buddy and I lay in that hole for three days and nights. Didn’t know if the VC had left. Didn’t know if they was up there waiting for us. They liked killing better than we liked dying.”

He removed his cap.

“My hair was jet black when I went down in that hole,” he said. “Three days later this is the color it was and the color it’s been ever since.”

His hair was snow white.

He ordered another cup of coffee.

“I guess you were glad to be home,” I said.

His grin faded.

“I don’t have a home,” he said.

He turned away, stared at his reflection in the window, and waited for morning.

You writing a book?

You need a story?

Go talk to a stranger.

Inside – amidst our own grief and heartbreak and fears – every one of us is fighting a hidden battle that nobody knows and nobody sees.

Win or lose, it may be a battle worth writing about.

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