Jesse lost a friend on Friday night. Shaky lived in one of the parks in Santa Barbara and, as I understand it, was a bit of a legend in his community. He and his friends were together Friday evening and he decided to go to sleep before the others. In the morning, Gator, Shaky's best friend and constant companion, went to wake him but Shaky was gone.
Jesse didn't get to the park until Shaky's body had already been taken away. He was told they'll cremate him and wait to hear if there is something that someone somewhere wants done with the ashes. Jesse gathered Shaky's earthly possessions from behind the dumpster where he had been asleep and brought them to Gator and the others. There wasn't much.
Gator had a number for a woman he believed to be Shaky's mama. He didn't want the coroner to contact her about the death so asked Jesse to please make the call. Jesse did. He found out that she was actually Shaky's grandmother and he explained to her that he had some bad news. Of course, she was very upset by it but Jesse let her know that Shaky had been well loved.
Jesse and the men and women he knows on Santa Barbara's streets were not the only ones who loved Shaky. There's a whole group of them who have made friends with this community that hasn't quite made it in mainstream life. They were happy to meet a woman chaplain who has been involved, folks who work at the homeless shelter and others who turned up to offer comfort and support. That night a number of them sat in a circle around Shaky's wheelchair, lit candles and sang hymns. It was not a long gathering, but one that gave friends an opportunity to cry together.
I had been hoping to have a chance to meet Shaky because Jesse had so often spoken of him. "He was a really strong alcoholic, Mama," Jesse would say, by which he meant that alcohol had a very firm hold on him. Life had been pretty brutal and Jesse knew about some of the bitterness and hatred that he had come out of. Shaky's body was pretty much destroyed by his drink and he smelled really bad because he was in a wheelchair and couldn't ever shower, but, "He really, really knew Jesus," Jesse told me. In all the hardship of life, he had encountered a living Grace.
I'm not sure why I'm relating this story today except that it really hit me hard to think of someone storing their belongings behind a dumpster in a park. He was curled up next to them when he passed away. Behind a dumpster. Behind a dumpster!
Some how that image just puts so much of life in sharp relief.