Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Power of the "Broken" and the "Unknown"

I delivered the eulogy at a dear friend's memorial service several years ago. For some reason the experience came back to me this past week.

People packed the small, upstairs, inner-city sanctuary. Folding chairs lined up wall-to-wall, front-to-back. The audience provided a rich study in diversity. Black, brown, white, young, old, poor, well-off--the crowd reminded me of a cross-section slice of the city my late friend had loved so much.

His name was Ed.

He spent most of his life living hard, chasing women, running cons, and doing and dealing drugs. He knew the inside of prison. He knew racism. He knew the pain of broken relationships, disappointed children, and violence.

He knew addiction most intimately.

Ed could "do" hair! He enjoyed the reputation of an accomplished stylist. He died of brain cancer.

Most people would dismiss Ed as a lost life--a person racked by needs and empty of positive capacity. Unknown, powerless, and broken, he would be judged by most a failure with nothing much to offer anyone.

Nothing could be farther from the truth about Ed.

When I first met Ed about four years before his death, he volunteered in the inner-city center I managed. Ed stepped up as one of our very first community leaders. He helped transform our outreach center from a place of charity to an outpost of community and hope.

Most days Ed spent his time walking back and forth between our building and Narcotics Anonymous Central, then located just down the block. He literally dragged volunteer after volunteer into our community center, most of them recovering addicts who needed to contribute.

These friends filled the seats of the sanctuary the day of his memorial service.

But Ed touched the "rich cats," too. Addicts from well-to-do suburban enclaves like University Park, Plano, and Richardson counted on him as their friend and mentor in recovery.

Ed connected the mental health/recovery community to our beleaguered neighborhood. Ed perfected the fine art of networking, but with him the process always focused on lifting people out of the pit.

Person by person, well over twenty of them, stepped to the podium to share memories and gratitude concerning Ed's influence in their lives.

One man I will never forget.

Tall, well-dressed, articulate, and engaged at the heart level, this gentleman told of the day he had stood at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X boulevards trying to decide which way to go with his life. Just out of prison with no money, no job, and little hope--then, he told the funeral audience, "Eddie drove up with a white guy in a Cadillac and told me to get in. He said he would take me to a place of life, not death."

As he spoke, tears welled up in my eyes and a lump rose in my throat. I had been the "white guy." The Cadillac was my father's, borrowed when my car had broken down.

Now here he stood--doing well, employed, full of purpose and hope. What a reunion we enjoyed after the service!

Yes, Ed was largely "unknown."

For sure, Ed's life was tough, and not all of his decisions served him or his family very well. Ed eagerly, and with little reserve, admitted his failures. He found himself and his God before his journey ended. And he made a huge difference in his world.

He taught me many lessons. The one I remember today is simple: Everyone has something to offer for the good of the community.

No one should be written off before his or her script ends.

Everyone deserves to be taken seriously.

No one can claim perfection.

Everyone matters.

To give up on a person is to take a tragic, very wrong turn.

Thankfully, our inner-city community enjoyed the good sense and spiritual maturity to allow Ed to find his place in our midst on his own terms.

Thanks, Ed. Your life mattered to me and to so many others. And, it still does now years later.


owldog said...

I loved the story about ED and I wish that could be told to a large audience. That is a hard lesson but the most important one; EVERYONE is important to GOD and should be to us and never give up home.

Again, I will try and remind myself of that all day.

Anonymous said...

How easy it is for us to forget the value of those deemed worthless in our world. It is a timeless issue. We can be selfrighteous when looking at someone facing life's problems. Yet we serve a God of endless possiblities who can enable all to overcome the hardship and learn to live abundantly. Ed embraced his humanity and found the divine. This is Ed's gift to us even after his earthly life has ended.