Tuesday, March 6, 2012

David, your family misses you....

I began serving as a volunteer at Emmaus Ministries around 2004. Emmaus serves men caught up in prostitution – street hustlers – typically viewed as the outcasts among the outcast. Even among these, David was a man apart, but he was still one of the family. In fact Emmaus was the only family this man who had been orphaned by the world had remaining. To a man who was homeless, who slept in a tent in the park even during the bitterest cold of winter, Emmaus was home.

David kept to himself, alone in a crowd. Even among those who are marginalized, David sought isolation at the edges. Trust did not come naturally to him. Though he was homeless, he refused to go to shelters, preferring to set up a tent in some remote part of the lakefront park. David was a man who had his demons, addictions and various medical and psychological problems. He did not invite familiarity and kept most people at a distance. I considered him to be secretive, furtive, shifty when I first met him. It left me with a feeling of discomfort.

As I had the opportunity to see and speak with him more over the years, the uneasy feeling I first had changed to one of curiosity, then into respect. I was intrigued by his broad life experience including military service, and his love for the outdoors which seemed ironic given his status as a homeless denizen of a large city. I recognized signs of psychological problems and heard of his problem with heroin. But over time I came to recognize what a gentle soul resided in that life-worn body.

December 19, 2011 was the last day that David had a chance to spend time at his Emmaus home with his family. On that day David loaned a good pair of boots to another one of the guys. David knew the importance of quality, insulated boots to people living on the streets of Chicago during the winter months and wanted one of his brothers to have them. It was just a loan and, after all, he would be back soon – certainly for Christmas and New Years which are joyous occasions at the ministry center celebrated with simple, good meals, small gifts, and caring people.

But David didn’t show for Christmas. New Years day also came and went with no word from or about him. David was missed, but this wasn’t the first time he had gone missing. However as the days went by, concern grew among the staff, volunteers and men of Emmaus. Calls were made to area hospitals and to the police, but no information on David was available.

It would be almost two months before we got word of David -- the word we had feared. David’s body had been fished out of Montrose Harbor on December 20, 2011. The story was not considered newsworthy. After the fact we were able to find the following notice in the Chicago Tribune:
Fire officials pulled the body of a male from Montrose Harbor this morning, officials said. Chicago Fire Department divers were called to the scene at 9:51 a.m. after someone spotted the body which seemed to be in the water for sometime, said Chicago Fire Department Spokesman Richard Rosado.

There was no expansion of or follow up on this brief story. The body of a man was pulled from the water... that's all.

The missing person report Emmaus left with the police was misfiled, so the staff of Emmaus who had been making calls was never notified. In accordance with procedure in Cook County, after a bit of time David’s unclaimed body was buried in a potter’s field with other lost souls. Though David had served his country in the Navy and received an honorable discharge, entitling him to a respectful burial, his body lies anonymous in an unmarked grave.

I guess this story affects me more today as I read of the tragic death of another young man whose body was fished out of Lake Michigan just a mile south of where David was found. This young man was not like David. He had a home of his own, a fiancée with whom he lived and a family. The media covered this story in depth both when he initially went missing following a night of partying with friends, and later with extended personal interest pieces after his body was found. I guess that, unlike David, this young man's life mattered and his death is considered of interest not only to his family, but to a wider audience as well.

The family of this other young man has my deepest sympathy on their loss. But I can’t help but wish that David’s death had attracted a bit more attention as well. I only wish that more people could have known David as did those who cared for him at Emmaus. For David's life and death also matter. All that is left to do is mourn.

Please keep David and all the anonymous men Emmaus strives to serve in your prayers.

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