Two years ago, March 23 at 8 in the morning, Michael collapsed while unloading food at our outreach center. By 11 he was in a coma and remained so till death on the 26th. The burst aneurism had shredded his aorta; nothing could be done.
We had known Michael for a few years and for over a year he had been a dedicated client-volunteer typically giving 16+ hours a week. He had at first come to help in relocating the outreach center and stayed to help buy, handle, sort, bag, and distribute food. He returned one morning a week to mop and clean while I did data.
After his death we came to know how little we knew of Michael; probably things we could have known or surmised but in the focus of work never got around to.
Two loom large. Michael was homeless and without medical care.
Not that Michael was at all forthcoming. He had, he said, been renting a small trailer in 1000 Palms but at some point switched, he said, to a rented room. After his death we found the ‘room’ in 1000 Palms, actually a few shelves of Michael’s boxed belongings in a residence that had been converted into a machine shop. Michael was renting storage. Medically, in his mid 50s, overweight, with a bad diet, he fit the same profile that had landed me a triple bypass a decade earlier.
Could we have guessed his homelessness? Read the signs of him preparing food to take with him or ‘showering’ with a garden hose out back? Could we have urged him to explore housing alternatives just as we were doing for other clients weekly? Could we have curtailed his physical activity on our behalf in light of his obvious risk status, and knowing that, have recommended medical alternatives? Maybe. Probably. Sure.
But my remembrance here is not what we could (should) have done. My remembrance it that we missed it. When we are admonished to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ we can’t just wait for the opportunity to show itself. We must seek it out with our eyes and ears open and be willing to read between the lines. Then, hopefully, action will follow.