Written by Elisabeth Jordan
It took him a year to talk to me. Sometimes, he'd grunt in acknowledgment of my presence, but even that was once in a blue moon. His best friend, Mr. B., was one of the first in the neighborhood to embrace me. They sat together every day, on paint pails or old folding chairs in front of an abandoned white building. To get to their spot, I had to jump across a large ditch; Mr. B always said he wished we could trade legs so he could do that, too.
Rowdy was skeptical. A lot of do gooders in the area, dropping off food or clothes here and there. He was a loyalist—loyal to his friends, a defender of them, and he didn't take kindly to new people. One day it struck me that I sometimes felt invasive when I'd hop the ditch and squat beside these men. I realized that although there weren't walls, this was their space, and from then on I'd ask, "Okay if I join you?" before hopping over.
One day not long after that, Rowdy spoke to me. He looked at me and said, "You are one of us." I couldn't quite believe it—this silent enigma of a man, who I thought mostly wanted me to be gone, was telling me the thing I most wanted to hear, that I was accepted.
Let's be honest: I was an outsider. I didn't belong in this neighborhood. Not because I'm any better than any person there, but simply because my natural life would never take me there. I had to go out of my way. And yet here I was, having spent countless hours with these new friends, and the one who doubted me the most told me I was one of them. It's one of the moments in my life that I have felt the most honored.
Rowdy passed away last Wednesday, January 11. He was 62 years old. Last Thursday, Mr. B placed flowers where he used to sit every day. Rowdy died peacefully . . . sitting down in line at the shelter, he fell asleep, and simply didn't wake up.
Rowdy lived in an apartment until about three years ago when his apartment complex got condemned, and he couldn't afford rent anywhere else. He worked before he was homeless, and he worked all throughout his homelessness. He never took money from the government. He drank but never smoked crack; this was a point of pride for him. It doesn't feel right, knowing he died in line at a shelter. I wish something could have been different—that we could have helped find him housing.
This world is not what it should be, not what we hoped for Rowdy. We grieve his loss, and we are thankful for the time we knew him. Next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., we are holding a memorial service for him at CitySquare. If you'd like to help us purchase flowers, some light food, and coffee for the service, please donate here: www.thehumanimpact.org/give and select "Meet the Need" from the dropdown menu.
His death has made me think of a woman named Fantine from Les Miserables. In "I Dreamed A Dream," a song she sings near her death, the last line says, "Now life has killed the dream I dreamed." For some of our friends on the streets, life has killed their dreams. They wished a different life but pass on from this one with unfulfilled hopes. I believe a better world is coming. Until then, we follow Jesus to those he loves: the outcasts, forgotten, poor. It is there that we find him, too.