Our Invisible Neighbors, and Dying Without a Name

Our Invisible Neighbors, and Dying Without a Name

This last week, I had the opportunity to attend a memorial service for those who had died on the streets of Portland over the previous year.  This was put on by our friends at Operation Nighwatch, and brought people together from various faith communities in Portland to remember the lives of those who had passed away.  There was music that was played, and prayers that were said.  There was a time for people to share about their friends, which brought some of the stories of those who had passed away to life in the room.  There was life and beauty in the room in spite of the sorrow.

Then the names were read.  Though many of the names included full names, and even nicknames, there were those with only a first name (or the only name they were known by).  Then there were those with no names.  One simple read, “the man who jumped from the roof Oct. 1st.”  Another read “the man who shot himself on Oct. 2nd.”  Not only did these people die on the streets, they died with no name.  Their life ended, and there was not even a name to remember them by.  Though the memorial service was beautiful, this is what stuck with me.

No one should die without a name.  No one. I don’t care how they ended up on the street.  I don’t care if they were a nice person or not.  No one should die without a name.  Everyone is made in the image of God, and, to quote our founder Ken, deserves to be loved simply because they exist.

Though issues regarding houselessness and poverty can be complicated, choosing to love our neighbor should not be.  And for those of us in the Church, it is not optional either.  And a simple way we can begin loving people is to notice them.

One word that my friends living outside use often to describe how they feel is invisible.  Invisible.  As they go about their day, people either ignore them, or look down on them.  They can sit there for hours without so much as one person making eye contact.  And those that notice them do not always make it better.   Our friends share about people crossing the street so they don’t have to walk by them, and about people going back to double check the locks on the car doors when they see one of our friends sitting there.  In a culture like this, it is no surprise that some people die without a name.  Because it is clear that many people do not want them there in the first place.

So I encourage you, and myself as well.  Let’s all get better at noticing people.  Let’s all make sure there is no one around us who is invisible.  When we are walking around our city, let’s not pretend like anyone is invisible.  If you pass someone holding a sign, look them in the eye and say hello, even if you don’t have any money to give them.  Look for ways to be Jesus and to love those our society wants to ignore.  And get to know people’s names, because it is much harder for “Jim” to be invisible then for “that guy holding a sign” to be invisible.  Because the same way no one should die without a name, no one should live without a name either.