The man who made this film, Sasha Leahovcenco, explains that he first saw Reggie begging for money at a red light. When he went to see if he had change to offer, there was only a $20 bill in his wallet. At first Leahovcenco thought this man didn't deserve that much money, but a glance upward and into Reggie's face changed his mind in an instant. He asked Reggie what had happened to him, and Reggie responded "I was in a fire." Upon further prodding, Leahovcenco learned that Reggie had set himself on fire. He asked Reggie if he could return to hear the whole story, and Reggie kindly agreed. What you will see in the video below is Reggie's gut-wrenching story that ends with exceptionally profound wisdom. It's a little hard to understand what Reggie is saying at first, but we hope that you will listen to his story from beginning to end because it touched us in an incredible way.
Reggie explains that he was born and raised in Sacramento. He had two good parents, as he describes them, and says that he always went to school because he enjoyed being there. He had the foundation for a stable and productive life. After a couple years of college, he went on to join the military and eventually received an honorable discharge. Reggie says that when he came back from his time in the military, he was an entirely different person. He started to make bad choice after bad choice, alienating his family and falling into drug addiction, most likely due to PTSD and/or depression related to his service. Finally, he explains the series of events that led to him setting himself on fire in a bone-chilling and downright heart-wrenching way. What occurred after that fateful day is nothing short of miraculous; Reggie bounced back from the entire experience with the most profoundly beautiful and humbling perspective on life.
Reggie does not specifically say what he did during his time in the military, but judging by his approximate age, he very well may have served in the Vietnam War. According to an article published by William J. Cromie of the Harvard University Gazette entitled 'Mental Casualties of Vietnam War Persist,' approximately 19% of the more than 3 million troops that served in the Vietnam War returned with PTSD. Similarly, a study performed by researchers from Columbia University and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 16% of soldiers and Marines that have served in combat units during the Iraq War returned with major depression or anxiety. With these statistics in mind, it's easy to assume that the major negative turning-point that occurred in Reggie's life was sparked by his psychological reaction to having been in war.
Reggie's story illuminates the problems that arise when American society does not make enough effort to rehabilitate the men and women who have served our country once they return from war. Suffering from depression can be (and almost always is) crippling for the people who struggle with it; they experience severe difficulties in facing day-to-day life, much like Reggie described of his life post-military. The sense of absolute and total resignation that led Reggie to set himself on fire just to escape his daily existence is the result of something much larger than simple displeasure; this is undoubtedly the result of deep-rooted psychological disturbance. It is miraculous that Reggie survived the fire, and even more miraculous that he was able to readjust his perspective on life and to find a renewed sense of purpose, hope, and motivation.
By the end of this story, I had tears running down my cheeks. We were completely gripped by Reggie's story and hope that by sharing it, others can learn from Reggie's past as well as his incredible wisdom. What did you think of Reggie's story, were you as moved as we were? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!