I have often said that homelessness is best understood as a series of losses. Even so, our community has been dealing with so much loss this week it takes my breath away.
There was a hurricane that wrecked devastation on our friends who are living outside. We have spent the week handing out blankets and tent and sleeping bags, and listening to stories of that which was lost and cannot be replaced.
Or our friend Danny, who was once a regular part of our community before he moved to Portland, came back to be with his Mom, who is in intensive care after having a stroke.
And, perhaps most devastatingly, the death of our friend and community member Mike.
Doing this work – relational accompaniment of those who are experiencing homelessness – is the sort of thing that is extremely simple, but is not easy. Building relationships is not hard work – almost all of us do it all of the time. But to accompany people who live in dark places, who have more than their share of troubles, requires a commitment of time and emotion that can be exhausting and, if you are not careful, debilitating.
So, it is inevitable that some of us connect more with certain community members than others, in the same way that you connect more with certain people in your church or school than others.
Mike connected best with Laura, the Director of Operations of our Community Engagement Center. So when we learned earlier this week about his death, it rocked us all, but especially her. This is what she shared with our worshiping community on Wednesday at our prayer service.
My friend and our community member Mike ( AKA preppy Mike) died of an overdose Thursday, October 6th.
I am beginning to believe one of the saddest things we do to one another is talk about or label or refer to or think about one another as one thing, often a not so good thing. We so often don’t let each other stand as representatives of really beautiful stuff, or even better – find the complicated mix of it all beautiful. We wait until folks pass to add that into the picture. We let each other’s shadows overcast the sheer miraculousness that is a living human being. To be born, to breathe, to grow, to learn, to fall, to triumph, to fall in love, to work, to hurt, to need, to get lost, to be found, to need to escape, to create, to desire, to be held in community…
Mike loved cars, Mustangs particularly. He also – often to my dismay – loved Axe Body spray. He hated having the wrong shoes on for the wrong event. He was serious about looking nice – hence the comment distinguishing him as “preppy” from the other 30 Mike’s around here. He wanted to go to school to learn to build and work on the cars he loved. “All you need is a big exhaust, bigger tires, and get it a little lower” – he’d say about every vehicle we saw.
On our many trips to the dump over this past summer getting our community center here in better shape, he’d talk about longing just to have a little place of his own, be able to join a gym, keep a job, get back in school. He missed his family in ways, often feeling hopeless about ever earning a spot back. He loved nice things. It was a daily, complicating matter with his life in the shelter.
There were many times over the last year I saw Mike proud. Two that are worth noting are when he had finally received Triangle Family Services emergency funding, gotten himself a bedroom of his own, and showed up to church in a fully ironed yellow polo shirt, tucked into some nice clean jeans with brand new stylish thick plastic frame glasses… Finally, Mike was getting to be Mike.
The second time was when he had been helping out our friend Pam at her garage and out of the blue there was a snake in the shop. Mike was called upon to “solve the situation” – I’ll spare you the details but the conversation involved continual phrases like “only one willing” “showed em who’s boss”…
As Hugh reminds us each time there’s a death in our community – there are always 2 deaths – the one when a person breathes their last and the one when we stop saying their name.
May we remember Mike for all his AMAZING miraculous human-beingness and may we be reminded to think more about one another that way, now.
As Laura notes, it isn’t just those who are experiencing homelessness who deal with loss. Being in community with them means that losses are shared, and sometimes – all too often – we are the ones who mourn.