by Jack Loh
He was smoking a cigarette in between Shahan and McGivney Hall on my way to Political Science class. I don’t know what called me to do this, but something inside made me want to strike conversation with him. He was the same elderly man that presented his veteran’s identification to me at the front desk in the Mullen Library. I already knew that his name was Daniel Updegrove. When I asked Dan where he stays in D.C., he pointed in the direction of the Basilica.
I had never stepped into a homeless man’s life before until now. After my library shifts throughout the Fall Semester, Dan and I would walk over to the Basilica for an hour or two just to talk. Most of the time we would sit on top of his concrete bed below the stairwell of Mary’s Garden. We shared countless laughs, recalled our backstories together, and learned from each other. Not a shred of me felt uncomfortable when I was with him.
When a veteran’s organization gave Dan eligibility to move into a new apartment by December, he patiently waited not knowing what tomorrow would bring. Knowing that he was suffering with lung cancer, I wanted to be there with him every step of the way. I continuously reassured hope in him and began to think more positively. Nothing else mattered besides the time that we had with each other. I gradually knew him as a big hearted, brilliant, and unbelievably strong person facing a lot of hardship all at once. If it was his time to pass at Catholic University, I believed the Basilica would guide his soul to heaven.
When Dan officially moved into his apartment just two days before Christmas Day, he thanked me for everything from the Fall semester. It was surreal knowing that our nights together outside of the Basilica were over, but I was even happier knowing that he was finally in a comfortable living situation. Ultimately, I first-handedly watched this man overcome the worst adversity in his life. It was crazy to think that I crossed paths with him during his final months of homelessness. Being a support system and giving my time to Dan allowed me to learn lessons that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. Friendship is invaluable, especially when that bond can change the lives of both involved. Let the times between an aspiring college student and homeless Vietnam War veteran be forever cherished outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.