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As I come to know these fine people, they share with me more of their personal and sensitive stories. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist. "Blog names" have occasionally been given to me by the person whose story I am telling. Names are never their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Selfless Suffering

When I rounded the corner onto Emerald Street from Lehigh Avenue, I knew instantly that the population of “Emerald City” was pushing or exceeding 60 men and women.  With my window down, I said hello to a few people who saw me as I pulled up to my usual parking area at the far end of the bridge.  I got out of my Uplander and walked to the back hatch to pull out my cooler of two cases of water on ice.  Two men, both of whom I know, walked toward me and asked if I had water.  A well dressed and obviously exhausted woman who I also know was returning from a night of “dates.”  She asked me for the same.  They all explained how thirsty they were.  “Sure I do,” I stated and gave them each a bottle before lifting the cooler out of the van.

I navigated that aging wheeled cooler with its extendable handle onto the cracked sidewalk and walked down the 20 feet or so to the first people, most awake, some asleep, just under the protection of this old bridge and out of the rain of the day.  The two men and four women in that first cluster of people all greeted me and accepted water.  

Tina looked up at me from her plastic mat with a saddened look on her face.  “Hi, Chris. My brother has something he needs to tell you.”  Looking over at her brother who was sitting on a chair and drawing a poster with an inspirational statement, Tina said: “Sam, please tell Chris what’s going on.”

I knelt down next to Sam and said “Hi. What’s happening?”  Sam kept drawing, didn’t look at me and said: “Tina’s son shot himself in the head two days ago and died.”  I tried to gather my thoughts.  I asked a few questions to get my bearings on how old he was – only in his 20s – and if he was local or distant – local.

Walking on my knees, I stepped over to Tina where she was still seated on her mat and knelt in front of her.  “I can’t talk about this Chris.”  “That’s fine, Tina.  We don’t need to talk.  May I give you a hug?”  She nodded her head in a quick fashion as if doing so would somehow keep her tears stuffed inside.  I knelt in front of her and reached out to hug Tina as she reached out to be hugged.  I held her for probably ten or fifteen seconds and she held on tight for the same.  To the best of my recall, I don’t think we said anything in those seconds.  What can anyone say to a woman who has just lost a son?

But wait…

The agony for Tina does not begin with the loss of her son.  As I was kneeling in front of Tina in this moment, I was thinking of a conversation with her about ten days earlier.  On that day, Tina looked at me as we chatted in a small group while sitting on the sidewalk and said, “Chris, I don’t know that I’ve told you yet but I was just diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and have eight to twelve months to live.”  When she shared that with me, I tried to offer some comforting words but what words are there when one knows their end is near?  I tried to assure her of God’s love but to a hurting person who has never been taught things of God; it’s too bizarre a topic in such a tragic moment.

But wait…

The agony for Tina does not start with her diagnosis of terminal cancer.  As I was sitting with Tina in that small group of people on the sidewalk, I could not help but think of a long one on one conversation that I had with Tina about ten days earlier.  On that day, Tina MSW (Master of Social Work) explained in amazing professional detail the life situation faced by homeless addicted people.  She explained the trauma faced within the person’s family and friends and the devastation to careers.  She cited her own professional days of having her own clients who she counseled and how she now lives under a bridge.  She compared and contrasted the differences in policies and procedures regarding drug addicted people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.[1]

During the conversation of her diagnosis, Tina told me that she has written a professional paper of these topics and will be giving it to me for appropriate distribution.  She added: “I won’t be around to benefit from the changes that may come about from this paper but my friends will.  I want to do whatever I can to make life better for them.”  I’ve not yet seen this paper but even as Tina is facing her own health issues and the funeral of her son, she told me yesterday that she’s going to get it to me soon.

Selfless Suffering

[1] It goes beyond this current blog entry to get into that discussion. Suffice it to say that, from what I’ve learned from Tina, Pennsylvania could learn a lot from New Jersey.

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