Wed, Jun 8, 2011 Posted by StreetWise in From The Director
On Wednesday, May 25 I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at the 26th Annual Interfaith Memorial Service for Indigent Persons. The memorial service celebrates the lives of the 150 indigent persons buried by the Office of the Cook County Medical Examiner over the past 12 months. It was hosted by the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple.
The Interfaith Memorial Observance for Indigent Persons brings needed spiritual attention to Chicago's abandoned and forgotten. The service was established by the late W. Earl Lewis in 1986, so the Chicagoans would have an opportunity to serve as a kind of surrogate family for those who died poor and alone. Lewis also saw the service as a call to action: "To live and die alone is a human tragedy, but not to be remembered and mourned after earthly life is an ugly blemish on human dignity," he said.
In my remarks I contrasted the 150 men and women buried by the County against the story of Isabelle, a homeless woman I knew who died last October in a vacant lot on Chicago's North Side. Isabelle was not buried as an anonymous person because a number of people who knew her from the neighborhood took the time to hold a wake and funeral service.
As a result of their participation in Isabelle's life they were even able to locate Isabelle's estranged daughter. Her daughter joined a diverse group made up of community residents, social workers and churchgoers at the memorial service and burial. Unlike the majority of people who passed Isabelle every day without acknowledging her at all, these people took the time to get to know Isabelle while she was living on the street. The fact that these people took the time to acknowledge Isabelle in life made it possible for her daughter to join them in acknowledging her at her time of death.
The fact that Chicagoans gather once a year to acknowledge the passing of strangers has value. It has value because it strengthens our most common bond, our universal bond – our humanity. The more that each of us can see past the incidentals that separate us to the common core that binds us, the more likely we are to connect with the people around us.
The more likely we are to acknowledge in a meaningful way those we see every day, whether they be family or friend, neighbor or stranger, we also connect with the homeless woman on the street or the StreetWise vendor on the corner.
As Isabelle's life and death proved, the marginalized and isolated need not die alone. All it needs is for someone to take the time to acknowledge that person in life so that they can be rightly remembered in death.
StreetWise Executive Director