Friday, November 21, 2008

Hard Things

As I mention sometimes on here, I volunteer regularly at the interfaith homeless shelter in town. It has been a hard fall there. Since the end of September, we have lost five of our guests. One, in particular, I knew quite well. His name was Terrance, although I always addressed him as Mr. His Last Name. It just seemed right to do that. Mr. F had been at the shelter for as long as I can remember. He spent many a night in what we call the "drunk tank," or "inner sanctum" in more polite terms, not because he was drunk but because he was occasionally drunk and could not cope with changing the location of his sleeping place on the nights when he did need to be in the drunk tank. It was just easier on him to sleep there all the time. Mr. F would also get very upset if, in their drunken unawareness, one of the other men in the room would inadvertently roll into his traditional spot. He could not cope with sleeping in a place other than the one he always slept in. For those familiar with Aspberger's, this should be a familiar symptom. I always had a fondness for Mr. F because he reminded me a little bit of my cousin, who has Aspberger's, as well. I never knew Mr. F's story. I never asked. I find people will tell me if they want me to know. Many do. I received an email earlier this week from the director of the shelter. In it, she talked about the five men who have died, and I was startled and saddened to see Mr. F's name on the list. I have since found out that he died a very tragic and unnecessary death, the kind that keeps me coming back to the shelter because it is the only thing I can do to keep it from happening again. Tomorrow, I will be attending Mr. F's funeral as conducted by the non-homeless community, which will be very different from the one next week conducted by those who knew and appreciated Mr. F. Since I will not be in town for the second funeral, I am going to the first. I wonder if I will see his family there. I wonder if he had any family. I wonder what we could have done differently to keep him off of the street in the first place. Most of all, I wonder what we will do now. There is often much talk of change within the community after a tragedy like this. It never lasts long. My prayer is that this time, the conversation will not end.

Here & Now
by Mark Erelli

Cobblestone pillow
Newspaper sheets
Ten below zero
Sleeping on the street

Someday we all will have a home
A place to come in from the cold
Somewhere so high above the clouds
Why not here
Why not now

Pastures of plenty
For the tired and poor
Still too many hands empty
Behind the golden door

Someday we all will live the dream
There'll be no cracks to fall between
Somewhere where everyone will have enough
But here and now
It's up to us

Someday we all will be at peace
And all of our suffering will cease
There's more than enough to go around
Why not here
Why not now

Rest in peace, Mr. F. May you be the last to die on the street.

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