Tuesday morning remains of Monday afternoon death.
On Monday afternoon I was walking through the Company Gardens. Up ahead on the left side of the path (Government Avenue) there was a blur of movement. A person had toppled over. There was no alerting cry. No gasp or yelp. In that slouching moment breath had simply left him. He had no pulse. He was dead.
Soon there was a crowd. Respectful and concerned. The cops came. A triangle area cordoned off. The anonymous person’s body was covered by a space blanket. From outside appearance it was likely the person had been living rough for some time. An unhoused person, like so many on the city streets? He was probably younger than he looked. We wondered: “Who will let who know that their son, father, husband, brother, uncle, friend had died?” We held the sadness of the public, yet loneliness of his death. I fear this winter there will be many more lonely deaths.
Later in the evening I thought of the age-old question: “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Do our lives make a sound if no one hears us? Do our lives matter if we are not noticed? Do we exist if we are never seen? Don’t we sometimes say: “They walked past me like I didn’t exist.”? Unhoused people living on the streets experience this all day every day. They are literally ignored out of existence. Spoken to and not with. They are constantly told to “move on, move on”.
To declare faith in a God who notices every fallen sparrow is to work for the restructuring of society so that everyone is seen and recognised as precious and essential. Where no one is ignored out of existence. In these days of growing suffering may we be given strength to resist the temptation, out of anxiety and discomfort, to turn our eyes away from the heartache and pain. In all our relationships and encounters with others may we listen in such a way that we affirm not only their existence, but their sacred worth.
In grace, Alan
Below is the extract from Etty Hillesum’s diary [An Interrupted Life] that was quoted during
last week’s sermon.
“In the darkest years of Nazi occupation and genocide, Etty Hillesum remained a celebrant of
life whose lucid intelligence, sympathy, and almost impossible gallantry were themselves a form
of inner resistance. The adult counterpart to Anne Frank, Hillesum testifies to the possibility of
awareness and compassion in the face of the most devastating challenge to one’s humanity.
She was killed in Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of twenty-nine.” (Quote from book cover.)
Sunday Morning Prayer
“Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight for the first time I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me.
I shall promise You one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself. I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives.
Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us but we must help You defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. There are, it is true, some who, even at this late stage, are putting their vacuum cleaners and silver forks and spoons in safe keeping instead of guarding You, dear God. And there are those who want to put their bodies in safe keeping but who are nothing more now than a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, “I shan’t let them get me into their clutches”. But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your arms.
I am beginning to feel a little more peaceful, God, thanks to this conversation with You. I shall have many more conversations with You.
You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labour for You and remain faithful to You and I shall never drive You from my presence”.