Friday, June 24, 2011
Disdained in Life, Discarded in Death
He was a loner, but likeable. John was a very intelligent homeless man who stayed in one of the local shelters at night, and fended for himself during the day. His yellow-tinted glasses gave color to his weary eyes.
I first met him a year or so ago. Our church operated out of a small storefront and served breakfast to the homeless early each Sunday morning. We would pack 60, sometime 70, homeless men and women into our narrow quarters. John was anxious around crowds. He would arrive late, and linger outside. He seldom asked for a meal, but always asked for coffee. I struck up conversation with him, and it became a near-weekly ritual. I looked forward to seeing him.
He would miss a week or two but always managed to reappear. During this time I left for 3 months to work with the poor in Honduras. Upon returning,I didn't see John for a couple weeks and asked a street person who was a buddy of John's. He told me John had died months ago. I was shocked.
Nobody on our "team" had heard anything. The grapevine of the homeless network was quiet; John was aloof enough that his brothers of the street apparently either didn't know or didn't care.
How does someone die without anyone noticing? How does a man created in imago Dei--the image of God--die and get discarded like a cigarette butt tossed out the window? How can you become so lost, so invisible that no one notices you dying?
I don't know. I do know this: I miss John. John, I wish I had known your health had been significantly deteriorating. Maybe I could have been there with you so you wouldn't have died alone. Maybe some family member broke out of their comfort zone and re-established contact with you and held your hand and uttered comforting words and provided loving presence as you died. Maybe. I hope so.
No one should die alone.