I recently opened the newspaper to see that someone I knew had died. This knowledge made me stop for a moment, mostly because he was young and his death seemed not only unexpected but wrong, somehow.
Within a day or two there was news of the death of another person I had known, but not as well. He was even younger than the first man. They are both dead now, but the vast differences in the lives they led will result in fundamentally different funeral services.
The first person was well known. I had the good fortune to cross paths with him from time to time in venues that included the gym and the golf course. It seems he was always smiling, and that fact resulted in my smiling back at him and coming away lifted by those little moments. There are many, many more who knew him better than I. He had become a leader of a significant and successful family business that became associated with New England professional sports teams and our own arena and convention center. Again, he was young. He will be recognized by a funeral that will attract many to come and pay their respects.
The other man, twenty years younger, was not well known to this community. He had stayed in this Shelter, he had disabilities to overcome, and he had received help from several agencies. He had not, to my knowledge, established any kind of truly positive track record in town. He died a unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago.
Tracy Chapman wrote a song called “Subcity.” Her lyrics speak to poverty and despair, but also to a way of life the rest of us don’t wish to see or acknowledge. It’s harder to live invisibly in Bangor, Maine, than in LA or New York City, but some people do. Don’t the rest of us instinctively turn away when we happen to see these folks? Don’t we want to find a way to believe we are different from them, and don’t we avoid any mental exercise in which we speculate who we would be and how we would act if we had had to live a life identical to theirs? Can we truly imagine?
The more people in our society who end up living in “subcities,” living lives of sickness and anger and violence and despair, the fewer potential members we have who could contribute to a real team. The more individuals and families we have living lives of depression and harm and chronic substance abuse, the greater collective cost we have to carry. It is understandable that we do not wish to automatically identify with these neighbors. But reinforcing that they are sub people, not like us, helps perpetuate the arrangement and the costs that come with it for all of us.
R W’s body was found behind Shaw’s on Main Street.
B G’s body was found washed up on the bank of the Penobscot in Hampden.
R L’s made it further downriver, to Bucksport.
L B jumped from or fell off the railroad trestle.
R L, E D and R H were all murdered here in Bangor.
D G and W M, years apart, died under this Shelter’s roof.
Many, many who spent some time here at this Shelter over the past 3o years ended up dying alone, in circumstances unknown to us.
At 5:00 pm on Tuesday, December 22, at the Hammond Street Congregational Church, we will gather for the annual Homeless Vigil. This brief ceremony offers us pause and a little personal peace while we take the opportunity to offer a little of our humanity in recognition of those who have died in circumstances we would not wish for ourselves.