Bearing With Grief

The morning was heavy with heat, humidity, and the grief of this past week.

“It’s worse in the summer than in the winter,” a guest said. Memphis in early August is oppressive. The clothing of the men who came to shower was so soiled that most of it had to be thrown away. No amount of washing would take away the stains and stench from the sweat and grime of life on the streets.

“I’m not doing well,” a guest said with sadness. “These days are hard.”

A few of us talked in the backyard. We were trying to figure out where a guest might be who had been in the hospital.

“He’s not in jail,” I said, “I checked.”

“They must have moved him to a long term care home.”

“What was wrong with him?”

“Something about his heart. And he had a lot of shortness of breath.”

Then we moved on to a guest who had seizures and fell a few days ago cracking open his head.

“He just keeled over. He dropped off some steps he was sitting on. One minute he was talking and the next he was just lying there.”

“He’s at the Med. He’s not doing well. Kathleen and I went up to see him.”

The mood was somber. The news of these two guests weighed heavily.

Two volunteers shared in the grief of a young man lost to suicide. They had known him through years of relationship with his family and through church and school. His funeral had been on Monday.

I also learned earlier in the week that Motella, a woman who had been on the streets for many years and then was taken in by June Averyt, had died a few weeks back. Her death had come suddenly after a brief illness. Maybe Motella needed to join June in her heavenly home, since June had died at the end of April.

Another volunteer had her own grief to bear. Her son’s funeral was Tuesday. Still she was here on this Thursday morning, serving in her sorrow.

And in her serving, perhaps there was an opening, a way to bear the grief of this week, by receiving the gifts that come in the midst of this fragile community of hospitality.

Fullview Baptist Church showed up with their first Thursday of the month sack lunches. Every guest got a lunch.

Joseph showed up with two bags of the most delicious egg rolls in the city of Memphis as he does most every Thursday. Guests and volunteers alike enjoyed this treat.

Students from the Southern College of Optometry came every day this week and served with steady enthusiasm.

Toward the end of the morning a guest came in who has been difficult at times. He can be a bit prickly. He handed me a box. “Here. This is for Manna House and for that baby you and Kathleen are caring for.”

Inside the box was a small stuffed bear and some magazines.
“The bear is for the baby. The magazines are for anyone who wants them. I want to help like you help me.”

As I left Manna House a little while later and locked the front gate I saw a man walking with two orthopedic boots on his feet. He had a cane and was also carrying a box.

I asked him where he was going.

“South Memphis.”

“That’s a long way to walk. Can you catch a bus?”

“Will you take me to a bus stop?”

“Sure. Get in my car.”

He directed me to a bus stop about a half mile away. Just as he was going to get out of the car he said, “You remember me?”

“You look familiar.”

He told me his name.

“I remember you now.”

“I’m not homeless anymore, well not really, since I’m staying with a friend. But I’m off the streets. You know that Manna House is a life saver.”

The heat and the humidity and the grief still hung in the air. But something else was present too. The gifts hospitality brings, from guests, from students and churches, from those regular volunteers who come so faithfully. The grief was not gone. But it was bearable.

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