Two weeks ago, I got word that William Hogan, a long time guest at Manna House, and friend of Door of Hope, died of a heart attack. His funeral was this past Saturday. William was a gentle soul who came faithfully to Manna House for coffee, rarely said a word, and whose lightness of being lifted spirits simply by his presence. His death was unexpected, and I will miss seeing him, not only at Manna House, but walking around Midtown, which he constantly did.
This past Saturday I went with Kathleen to help with Room in the Inn. A video is shown to guests before they leave for the various churches that will host them. The video is a bit dated. As I watched, I suddenly saw Twin, a Manna House guest who died two years ago. My heart hurt. As big of a pain in the ass as he could be, I miss him.
Seeing Twin so shortly after William’s death made me think about so many of our guests who have died. I miss Gregory’s wit and smile. I miss Donald in the chair in the corner of the Manna House living room arguing about the Dallas Cowboys. I miss Abe’s amiable curmudgeonly comments. I miss Mike B. sitting quietly reading on the front porch waiting for us to open. I miss Sarah, and her one legged and then no legged humor. I miss Eleana, and the way she said to Kathleen, “Hey lady!” I miss Tyler, Toney, Willie, and on and on.
Death at Manna House is all too frequent. In the twelve years we have been open, well over one hundred guests have died. And those are only the ones we know of; others simply disappear and we are never sure of their fate. William was fifty eight years old when he died. Quite young, but not so young when fifty is the average age of death for homeless persons.
Meanwhile, for the past several months, I have been working with other Board Members of Outreach, Housing, and Community (OHC) to bring this organization to a close. There’s grief in realizing that an organization that did so much good in helping people to move from the streets into housing has died from lack of resources. And the grief is compounded by knowing June Averyt was the founder and chief inspiration of OHC, and there’s no doubt she would have kept it going. But she died nearly two years ago.
All this death conspires with the season and the liturgical calendar to keep death daily before my eyes. Mortality is in the air as leaves and temperatures start to fall, albeit slowly here in the South, and winter draws near. In the liturgical year, the Feast of All Souls on November 2nd called people of the Christian faith to commemorate of all of those who have died, “the faithfully departed.” And this followed All Saints’ Day, which remembered all the saints, known and unknown. The Church recognizes the need at this time of year to connect us spiritually with the waning light and growing cold by bringing into our hearts those who have died.
Death is in the air, but so, too, in those feasts of faith, is the Manna House word for the day, “The gifts and call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Paul had a faith deeply shaped by resurrection, by his experience of the risen Christ. Jesus died maligned and damned by the powers that be, much like Manna House guests are crucified by life on the streets. But this horrible reality is not the last word about their lives, God’s gifts and call in their lives are not defeated by death.
I think this is why, when we have a memorial service at Manna House for a guest who has died, we tell stories, and we sometimes begin with this question, “How was the life of our friend a blessing to us at Manna House and to this neighborhood?”
Despite the harsh realities of the streets and in the lives of our guests, they persist in being blessings to us and to each other. They resist the powers of death. They show how the gifts and call of God are irrevocable. Or as one guest frequently tells me, stating his resistance, “I’m standing up; not covered up. I’m up at Manna House; not locked up. It is a good day.”