Last week the Homeless Persons’ Memorial was held in Knoxville. It is a national day of observance held around the time of the winter solstice. Those locally who died under a viaduct or in an abandoned building during the year are honored this night. There were twenty in 2014. Each time I attend the service, it touches my soul.
St. John’s Lutheran Church seems the perfect place to gather in meditation and remembrance. With its small sanctuary, the atmosphere is welcoming and comfortable. Dark wood pews and stain glass windows combine with the lighted Christmas trees and candles to create a feeling of hominess.
The service is plain. Charles Mead speaks on Hope after a prayer and some hymns. Then comes the Reading of the Names and for each a bell chimes. A friend or relative or case worker then carries a lit candle to the front of the altar in honor of that person.
Some speak of the people being honored. “I’ll miss her smile.” “Sure loved her little dog.” “A great big hulk of a man.” “He was a sweetheart.” These are heartfelt sentiments spoken by friends about their friends. They help erase anonymity from these who died without an address to their names. They give personality to these people of the streets.
In 2013 Robin (Scrappy) Wyrick eulogized his friend Terel (T-Bone) Brogdon whom he met on the streets 36 months before “T-Bone told me. He said, ‘You can do it. You can fight this. You can get back to your family.’ “And, through the grace of God, I did beat my addictions and I am back,“ Brogdon said in a voice filled with emotion. Eyes lifted he ended simply, “Thank you T-Bone.”
Often those attending offer poems. or prayers. Below are excerpts from a poem by Samuel Branson in the 2014 program:
The Can Man, Can!
“I can’t cross the road here and I can go in there.
Yes, this is a city park, but there is not loitering here!
I have got my pen and a few scraps of paper
But it is my mind I fear is about to tapper!
Dear God, I pray, out loud so no one will hear
Don’t let me give up like some of the rest,
Asleep in an alley or under a bridge at best.
Just for today, just for today!!! Leave my pride in tact
And I thank you Dear Lord for each Kind Act!
Like the man at the shelter who washed that smell from my clothes
And for the church with opened doors that welcomed me in
so I could worship you Lord.
With each blessing that comes my way, like all those cans that were
I thank you God for yet another day.”
Since writing this Mr. Branson has secured housing.
At the end of the service I go to one of the women who carried a lit candle for a friend. I express my regrets for her loss and we hug, my sister and I.