Four homeless guests of our shelter died this weekend. They weren't together when it happened; we have four separate events. As far as I know, there was no violence or mayhem, but four of the "least of our brethren" are dead.
It's easy to think that this is a sign, somehow. I mean... seriously.... FOUR???? OK,we're paying attention. What are we supposed to learn here? It's easy to think that we missed something, overlooked something, avoided something that might have helped us prevent these premature deaths.
Did we do too little? Of course we did. We might have done all that could be done. Probably, that's true. Nonetheless, we did too little.
Did we do the wrong things altogether? That's possible and more disturbing.
Or, was this inevitable, and we offered some solace and comfort and a smidge of dignity to their last days?
I just don't know. We scramble and scrape and pull more than a few rabbits out of hats in order to relocate the inherent dignity in our clients. We see their worth before they do, but that's just a function of the human condition. Most of us can see someone else's dignity more clearly than our own. Now we're faced with -not for the first or last time- the task of crafting a dignified death and memorial for people who have no experience of that.
Peace to Terry McBrien, Dennis Jones, Dave Smith, and Jim Blomberg. We will miss each of you and all of you.
It also occurs to me that as we offer the basic necessities, a little focused attention, and some hope to our homeless brothers and sisters, we can be really hard on ourselves. I can not be okay with a "you win some, you lose some" attitude here. We have to grieve the losses. We have to challenge ourselves to be more effective, more gentle, and all-around better models of a just world. Yet we also have to be gentle with ourselves about those losses.
We do a lot with a little. We take our work home. We agonize over our mistakes. And we go to bed every night knowing that we're safe and cozy and blessedly self-determining, while others are under bridges or safe-but-harried in the shelter. We have to get up in the morning and do it all again. People's needs are relentless.
So... homelessness finally broke these men. We couldn't stop it. That doesn't make them -or us- weak. It just means that injustice is a formidable foe. And we have to figure out some way -many ways, no doubt- to be sure that it doesn't break all of us.
Godspeed to these men, and may our hands be blessed for the work still to come.