Candlelight Ceremony at Lutheran Compass Center
Memorial for Those Who Died Homeless, 1998
thoughts by Anitra L. Freeman
I came in late to the service. I had never been to this ceremony before, so I wasn't sure what to do. As names were called out, different people rose to take a candle, light it from the central flame, and place it on the altar. When Toinette's name was called -- one of the victims of the serial killer -- no-one rose, so I went up to light the candle for her. I noticed that all the other candles had a slip of paper under them, with a name. When I sat back down, I sat by friends of mine, who each held a fistful of slips of paper. One gave me a slip to carry. No-one had Toinette's name.
I rose for a couple of other people whose names were on the list, but were not carried on slips of paper by anyone in the group present. I rose for a couple of people I had known personally who weren't on the list -- Jim Green from StreetWrites, Lynn Pfizer from StreetLife Gallery. What is happening to our country -- the rise in homelessness, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the growing numbers of people finding themselves slipping down the ladder into poverty -- is not primarily an economic crisis, but a crisis of community. We have forgotten that we are responsible for one another. We do not carry each other's names.
Even those of us who work on community keep learning more. Sitting there meditating on Toinette, I reminded myself that a person doesn't have to be a writer or an artist or a charming person to deserve human dignity, human recognition. Everyone has something about them to cherish. The more that you love, the bigger you get. The more our community includes, the larger and stronger we are.
My friend Stan Burriss stood up at the service to speak about isolation. Stan has been involved in SHARE and other community activities for years, and still sees himself as a very isolated person. He sees in many of the homeless the same tendency he feels in himself, to withdraw, to put up walls. If we keep those walls up, more of us will die.
Stan came to our next StreetWrites open mic, and shared more poems with us than he ever has before.
If we keep growing, if we keep doing more, we can restore a sense of community in our lives.