“What happens to the homeless when they die? The Potter’s Field documentary follows a group of high school students who attempt to give a little dignity, in death, to those who were stripped of it in life.”
This past Wednesday night, “The Potter’s Field”, debuted at Louisville’s Flyover Film Festival, and yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing this ministry in action when we buried one of our guys who was a guest at the day shelter where I work. I hope that this video clip spurs you to learn more about this program, and I truly hope that more communities embrace what a small group of people have done to make a huge impact for a segment of our population who often is forgotten in life and in death.
On May 31, Juan drowned in a tragic accident that was witnessed by several of his friends, and yesterday, as storm clouds gave way to sunshine, three members of our staff, six of his friends, and four family members joined some of the wonderful students and adults who are a part of The Potter’s Field ministry to pay our final respects to one of our own. When we arrived at the small cemetery, I immediately was struck by the almost dozen teenage boys dressed in their Sunday finest who were there to help us say ‘good-bye’ to Juan, who was a complete stranger to them. They greeted my colleagues and Juan’s family and friends warmly and sincerely, and they recited readings from the Bible with great reverence. A small bouquet of flowers that was assembled by a high student who also is part of the ministry was placed on the casket, along with a white prayer cloth bearing a red cross, and we brought a sketch that a local artist recently had done of Juan to put a face with his name for those who did not know him and to remind those of us who did know him of his smile and the ever-present twinkle in his eye.
When the service began, I stared at the casket before us and recalled the ups and downs that Juan faced in this life, and I silently said a prayer that he would find the peace, happiness, and love that were not always present in his life in his eternal repose. One of his friends simply stated, “He was my friend, a good friend”, with genuineness and melancholy. His case manager shared the story about the time he taught her how to sing “Feliz Navidad” at our Christmas party and recalled how impeccably dressed he always was, and she spoke about how he well he had done in one of our permanent supportive housing programs and the high hopes he had when he voluntarily exited the program to try to make it on his own. Things did not go according to his plans, and he found himself back among our guests at the day shelter. Whether in our housing program or in our day shelter, he had found a home with us.
When the eulogist spoke of “many homes Juan occupied here on earth” and the impact he had made in each of those homes, I smiled and recalled more bittersweet memories of my interactions with Juan. Then, the eulogist very eloquently stated, “Juan has returned home to his Father”, and he added, “This is a home going for Juan.” Indeed it was. When the service concluded, the man who stated that Juan was his “good friend” stepped forward and whispered something to one of the men who helps run this ministry, and the man silently nodded. With that, Juan’s six friends moved toward the casket and picked it up, carrying it silently and reverently to the gravesite. Watching his friends carry him “home” was one of the most poignant moments I have had the privilege of witnessing.
As we all milled around after the funeral service had concluded, we learned that another funeral was to take place in an hour for another person who was indigent. Only one person who knew the deceased person was to be there, which was a stark contrast to our rag-tag group who gathered to send Juan back home. I have found myself wondering who that person was in both life and in death. Where were this person’s family and friends? Did they even know this person had died? Did this person die alone? These are some of the countless questions that have crossed my mind since exiting the potter’s field yesterday, and they are questions that will go unanswered, as they are now buried with the deceased. I am immensely grateful that this extraordinary group of people has been there to bid farewell to nearly 1,000 special people in our community over the past seven years, as love, respect, and dignity should always be present in both life and in death. Fare thee well, Juan and all others who rest in the potter’s field. You are not forgotten.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story