By Ken Rose
Life is full. It keeps us busy. We get used to our daily, weekly, monthly, and annual schedules; and, before you know it, a decade has passed.
Recently, I was moving through my weekly schedule looking forward to my weekly respite at church. I’m a member at Martha Brown UMC, the church on Moreland Avenue that doesn’t really look like a church but more like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. As is often the case on a beautiful Sunday morning, my family traveled to church on bikes. Except this Sunday, it was just my daughter and I–my wife and two sons were at a soccer tournament.
But this Sunday was different. As we approached the church, we saw a police car with lights flashing parked on the sidewalk. On the steps of the breezeway facing Moreland Avenue was someone sleeping on the steps. My first thought was shamefully, “Why is that guy still sleeping on the steps? Why hasn’t he woken up? After all it is Sunday morning.”
But Bruce, who was the name of the man “sleeping “on the steps, had died. He had died sleeping on our steps. He had died looking for some place to find comfort, some place to find solace, or maybe just a refuge away from Moreland Avenue.
My first thought was a hope that he had found peace. My second was a question: “Why wasn’t his passing more important to me? Why didn’t I feel something? Surely, as someone who follows the teachings of Christ, shouldn’t I feel more compassion?”
But I didn’t. I was numb, numb to the logical consequence of an economic system that yields winners and losers, a system that leaves the mentally ill, addicted, or afflicted left to fend for themselves on the street. It just was. It just was what it was.
Our minister said that Bruce had been coming to the church for help and for food. But no one was there the last time he came. Bruce died, and my hope is that at least in his loneliness that the church steps provided him some spiritual comfort. Bruce’s death left a loneliness in my heart. “What does it mean? How can God allow for a world where he was alone?” I don’t know.
Bruce passed away on the steps of Martha Brown UMC roughly two months after we started giving away free hot dogs and hamburgers after church on the steps out front. Every week we touch people who many of us would ignore on the sidewalk. This connection is the kind of connection I think Christ would support. And most importantly, I think that this connection is more important to us than it is to them. But I don’t know why I think this.
Maybe Bruce decided that his last act would be an act of grace; maybe he didn’t. But I feel certain that his death wasn’t meaningless. Hopefully, it opens a little bit of loneliness in our hearts for him and those like him, breaks through some of the numbness of such a rich society that allows this kind of desperate poverty, and makes us think a little more about our own full lives.
I don’t know, but I can hope.