Work­ing with poor shifts views

The Commercial Appeal - - Viewpoint - Your Turn Guest colum­nist

Many years ago in my 20s, I vis­ited the Shelby County Ceme­tery, also known as Pot­ters Field. It was a fi­nal rest­ing place for the poor, home­less and many uniden­ti­fied per­sons, in­clud­ing ba­bies who died at birth.

As I stopped at one par­tic­u­lar burial site, I won­dered whether the de­ceased had fam­ily or friends. The grave could have been that of a man, woman or child. I guess no one knew, as there was no name or grave marker.

There was prob­a­bly just a burial, no words spo­ken about the “good times,” the happy or joy­ous times, spend­ing hol­i­days and good meals with fam­ily or friends, a fa­vorite trip or fa­vorite dessert or sea­son of the year.

Some might say “this per­son had not a soul in the world.” That’s not true. God gives each of us a soul. I be­lieve hav­ing souls gives us a kin­ship.

As I tried to re­search that par­tic­u­lar grave site, I thought of Matthew 5:3, which says the “poor in spirit will in­herit the King­dom of Heaven.” This must have been a spe­cial per­son.

Now, as I won­der about this soul, I won­der about my­self and my soul.

So much has changed in my life and so­ci­ety since my visit to that per­son’s grave. I won­der: Did I ever see this per­son? Did I show dig­nity and re­spect and call this per­son by name? Did I ever give any needed food, shel­ter, clothes? Or was I too busy?

Like all cities, ours has many who are poor or home­less. I think specif­i­cally of home­less women and chil­dren. Some of our neigh­bors live by eat­ing out of dump­sters. Many are sex­u­ally abused.

Some­times I get dis­cour­aged and think we can’t make a dif­fer­ence. Then I think about the peo­ple we serve at St Pa­trick’s Church Out­reach Cen­ter in the poor­est ZIP code in Mem­phis – 38126. It is such a bless­ing to serve our neigh­bors.

We of­ten ask the peo­ple we serve with food, cloth­ing and shel­ter how they are do­ing. The most fre­quent an­swer is, “I am blessed.” I of­ten think about how we can help in serv­ing dig­nity. I try and learn their names.

Truth is, we serve a pretty high­end clien­tele – those who will “in­herit the King­dom of Heaven.”

Decades af­ter my visit to Pot­ters Field, I have thoughts about my own fu­neral. I want to leave off the trap­pings of a pres­ti­gious fu­neral.

I do want the col­lec­tion bas­ket to be passed around and the money be used to help the poor. I want there to be a fu­neral mass at St. Pa­trick’s Catholic Church in the poor­est ZIP code in Mem­phis.

Let the meal of mercy be in the out­reach cen­ter and open the doors to the neigh­bor­hood. Let the pas­tor plan a full meal and line up vol­un­teers. Serve and they will come. Some will be wear­ing clothes, socks and shoes we col­lected and gave away. If it’s cold, their most val­ued pos­ses­sion, their warm blan­kets a donor sent money in for, will be on their shoul­ders. They will feel the dig­nity as those serv­ing ask, How are you do­ing?

Some will not at­tend be­cause so many of us worked to­gether to “Drive Their Dream,” and we helped de­sign a path for the im­pov­er­ished to be self­suf­fi­cient and they will be at work.

In the mean­time, please con­sider how we can work and walk to­gether now and serve the “poor in spirit.” We do have a kin­ship. As Je­sus said in Matthew’s gospel: “What­ever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Richard C. ‘Dick’ Hack­ett is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Catholic Char­i­ties of West Ten­nessee and for­mer mayor of Mem­phis.

Richard C. ‘Dick’ Hack­ett

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.