Homeless Procession of One


15 years ago, when I was a Street Chaplain in the wealthiest county in America (pause and let that sink in for a second), I had a plaque made for a stone memorial.  The stone was placed under a Japanese maple from Green Gulch Zen farm we wheelbarrowed through town and planted in front of the Catholic mission church.

It simply said,

“In Memory of All Our Friends Who Have Died Homeless in Marin”

My colleague Bob the Poet, who was homeless for many years, added his verse,

“Still as a Leaf. . .Deep in their Root. . .They Breathe the Stars”

The annual memorial procession led by the Street Chaplaincy has been held every July since 1999.  I missed it this year due to illness.  So, today, I walked the route alone, reflecting on the beauty all around me. . .and my dead friends, their names setting up camp in my brain.  I stopped to give a hug to “Jake,” a young man who used to come into our downtown drop-in “sanctuary” to play the drum and guitar.  He looked a little worn down, but said he was positive about a room offered by a local church.  He said he didn’t need any “life lessons” from anyone, “just a place to live and get off the street.”  I nodded and encouraged with few words.  I told Jake I was “doing the memorial procession” since I missed it.  He smiled.  I wished him well and continued the short walk toward the mission.  “The Mission.”  The largest and most visible church in the city, but all I see, all I really ever see, when I walk by, is “our memorial.”  The place to remember countless faces, many I knew, and many I don’t know.  I commend the Catholic community for allowing this “holy site” for “masses” of women and men, most of whom were not Catholic and maybe not even religious.  Human beings. . .fallen on the battlefield that is Our American Streets.  Believers or non-believers, the very least we can do is believe in their humanity.

Robin Williams just killed himself a few miles from here.  A neighbor of his once donated a new van to the Chaplaincy and I drove over to thank her.  Another world.  Yet, not.  Our common world, wealthy and poor, famous and unknown, people living and dying in mansions or tents, under a roof or under a bridge.  I once rented a room in a 2 million dollar house here.  Since then I’ve lived in basements and backrooms, cabins and tents and condos.  All I know is that wherever I live, home is not easy to define.  “Coming home” is a journey, maybe endless.  “Feeling settled” isn’t easy.  I know a little of what it feels like to “seek home. . .a place to belong.”  Even people who “have everything” get depressed, suffer silently and sometimes choose to end the pain.  I understand that; I’ve seen it many times among those who “have nothing”; I’ve felt that myself.

Life IS a choice.  And choosing to let others die is a choice.  But so is remembering, and learning something about both Life and Death.

So the procession goes on. . .remembering those who didn’t survive.  And encouraging those who still look for “home.”

{Possible side note:  truth be told, I had an eye exam downtown this morning.  As I walked to the doctor I became aware that I was walking the route of the procession.  Seeing Jake confirmed I was doing more than “seeing the doctor.”  My eyes were tested for glaucoma, my optic nerve photographed, my peripheral vision checked.  And I suppose my ability to see always needs checking}

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