There are a few every year.
Sometimes naturally, sometimes tragically–they die
There’s the man who used to take the newer homeless under his wing and teach them how to survive.
And there’s that guy who finally got housing and almost lost it because he let anyone without place claim a spot on his floor.
There’s the fellow with the crutch who’d trade you his food stamps if you’d do the walking to get what he needed.
One was always dying of something, but finally passed from something he could have cured.
Another didn’t keep many friends, but somehow people always talk of the thing they own that used to belong to him.
There’s always something our street folk are privately remembered for.
And now there’s the guy who was tragically struck by a train last week.
He wasn’t homeless that long, but knew the community long enough to earn a reputation as the street’s gentle giant. He is remembered for watching over another who kept getting beat up. And some claim his words were the thing that made them decide to seek a better path.
But there is something different about this story that needs not to be lost.
Although his death be untimely and horrific, he gets to be mourned in the ways our world expects. Memorials, funerals, obituaries and tears. Flowers, crosses, prayers and honors.
As his story goes, he once owned a house, talked regularly with friends and family. And now that he’s gone, those who loved him find it hard to believe that he could have been homeless.
It doesn’t always end like this.
When our street people die, Micah usually finds itself more engaged in the search for a long lost family than the opportunity to remember their life. Early in my career, I grew numb to the questions about when the funeral will be or why the obituary had’t shown in the paper. And it still breaks my heart when I have to confess that there isn’t going to be one.
I’ve learned, however, that those who leave this world with no home are by no means forgotten. With recycled goods, hand crafted items and tattered belongings, our homeless population shared their way of mourning with the people of Fredericksburg today. They cry, they swap stories; they bring flowers and eulogies. They mourn indeed, for the people who were important to them, just like the rest of us. And when they are done, the people they love become another legend, shared on the street so that all may know who went before them.
“Big Jim’s” story is a powerful testament to the very real possibility that any one of us could become homeless under the wrong set of circumstances. It has been an honor to watch the community rally around his remembrance. He is truly mourned in both the mainstream world and the homeless circle.
It is in their lives that I understand our street folks as valuable individuals. In their deaths I remember they are a community, each valued by someone. May we never forget that everyone, whether homeless or housed, is someone’s son or daughter, placed on this earth with an important purpose.