On Monday afternoon I was walking through the Company Gardens. Up ahead on the left side of the path (Government Avenue) there was a blur of movement. A person had toppled over. There was no alerting cry. No gasp or yelp. In that slouching moment breath had simply left him. He had no pulse. He was dead.
Soon there was a crowd. Respectful and concerned. The cops came. A triangle area cordoned off. The anonymous person’s body was covered by a space blanket. From outside appearance it was likely the person had been living rough for some time. An unhoused person, like so many on the city streets? He was probably younger than he looked. We wondered: “Who will let who know that their son, father, husband, brother, uncle, friend had died?” We held the sadness of the public, yet loneliness of his death. I fear this winter there will be many more lonely deaths.
Later in the evening I thought of the age-old question: “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Do our lives make a sound if no one hears us? Do our lives matter if we are not noticed? Do we exist if we are never seen? Don’t we sometimes say: “They walked past me like I didn’t exist.”? Unhoused people living on the streets experience this all day every day. They are literally ignored out of existence. Spoken to and not with. They are constantly told to “move on, move on”.
To declare faith in a God who notices every fallen sparrow is to work for the restructuring of society so that everyone is seen and recognised as precious and essential. Where no one is ignored out of existence. In these days of growing suffering may we be given strength to resist the temptation, out of anxiety and discomfort, to turn our eyes away from the heartache and pain. In all our relationships and encounters with others may we listen in such a way that we affirm not only their existence, but their sacred worth.
In grace, Alan