The rumor was she was dead. Even a location was given: found lying face down at the end of Beale Street. One guest told me and then several others corroborated the story. She’s dead. A Manna House guest, one we have had serious difficulties with over the years.
So the phone call to the morgue with its fancy “Medical Examiner” name had to be made. If she was dead, it was likely no one would claim the body. If she was dead, we would want to do the funeral.
I called, not sure if they would tell me if she was there. A volunteer suggested I introduce myself on the phone as “Doctor Gathje.” I said I think they might even be more open to sharing information if I go with “Reverend Gathje, pastor at Manna House.” After all I do have an internet ordination for just such occasions. “Reverend” might open a door or get me information withheld to mere mortals.
The person who answered was very polite and helpful. I don’t know if “Reverend” made a bit of difference to her. I do know that I heard the faint clicking of a computer keyboard immediately after I introduced myself and offered the name of the possibly dead guest.
“No one with that name is here.”
“Thank you. That’s good news. Thank you. Have a blessed day.”
Not dead. But where might she be? No one had seen her in her usual haunts the past few weeks. Maybe she’s in jail. I checked the Shelby County Kiosk where you can look up those imprisoned. There she was. Her mug shot with her defiant anger was posted along with a list of charges.
“She didn’t go down easily,” I said. Four counts of aggravated assault.
Kathleen tentatively tried to find a redemptive purpose in all of this. “Maybe this time they’ll keep her long enough to get her stabilized with some meds.” Then she realistically added, “But really I don’t have much hope for that or after.”
I thought of Gary Smith’s book, “Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor.” There he tells a story of a fight that breaks out between two people on the streets. One man pulled a knife on the other. Smith writes, “The potential victim then shouted at the knife wielder, in a voice that echoed off the tall buildings and over the 2 A.M. traffic noises, ‘You can’t kill me motherfucker. I’m already dead.’” Smith continues, “Many consider themselves dead because no one ever told them about the beauty of their lives.”
Earlier I had come across Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” Her poem ends with, “Tell me what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
How can persons so abused, so hurt, so damaged, move from being “already dead” to knowing their beauty and that their life is precious?
Not every story has a happy ending. So I am going to sit with this one for a while. The guest is not dead; but she’s in jail and facing serious prison time. Prison is rarely redemptive.
I know that somewhere beneath her struggle with mental illness and the horrors she has experienced on the streets there is a precious beautiful child of God. Or as a guest told me, “She’s a knucklehead, but she needs love too.” God, may love find her.