We received word today that Abe died two days ago. Abe now joins Sarah and Tyler in what I imagine to be a rather lively heavenly banquet. They all had lived on the streets and regularly attended Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Through church, Kathleen came to know each of them, and she introduced me to them as well.
We drew upon the wisdom of Abe, Sarah, and Tyler when we joined with a few others to begin discussions about opening a place of hospitality. Abe, Sarah, and Tyler were all clear that the need was for a place of sanctuary, a place for coffee, conversation, and showers and a change of clothes. The need was for a place where people would be treated with respect, feel welcome, and be able to enjoy each other’s company. Abe, Sarah, and Tyler in their gracious relationship with us formed a kind of holy trinity to inspire us to open Manna House.
One of my fondest memories of Abe was the help he gave with installing a new water line for Manna House. To have enough water pressure for the showers we needed a bigger water line going into the house. To save money we decided to dig out the old waterline instead of hiring professional plumbers to do so. How complicated can it be to just dig?
So, I started digging. Manna House was open that morning and a few guests joined in digging as well. The digging was not that hard. But the trick was to not hit the waterline while digging. I managed to barely nick the pipe with my pick ax. A geyser of water sprayed high into the air and the little trench filled quickly. We shut off the water and called the plumber. He was ready to install the new pipe but we still needed to get the old pipe out and get the trench deeper.
Abe and one other guest, Eddie, committed to staying with the job. We dug for the rest of the morning and into the early evening to complete the work. It was exhausting. Abe kept up our spirits with a few jokes and continual good-natured ribbing of me for hitting the waterline.
Abe had an easygoing demeanor. He was quick to smile and to greet everyone. For a number of years he earned a little extra money sweeping the steps and keeping the area around Sacred Heart Church clean. I would see him with his broom and dustpan when I would go by on my way to Manna House. There was a gentleness to Abe, a kind of gentleman’s manner that he carried even when his clothes were a bit tattered and threadbare.
I liked talking with Abe. He was well read and intellectually sharp, with a good dose of cynicism.
But for all the times I talked with him, I did not get to know him very well. He was guarded about his own history, sharing little about his family or his past. Maybe that had something to do with his struggles with alcohol. Abe battled alcoholism. He was in and out of treatment programs. He would have long periods of sobriety and then slide back into his addiction. Those slides were painful to see.
Abe was a veteran and relied upon the V.A. for medical care. Through various agencies he was eventually placed in housing. For the past two years he was off the streets. Since where he lived was not very near to Manna House, we did not see him much.
Yesterday we started to hear the rumor that Abe had died. When an old friend from Sacred Heart who knew Abe well stopped by Manna House toward the end of the morning, we knew even before he told us that Abe had died. May he rest in peace. Thank you Abe for your wisdom and your spirit of welcome.