Ancient History

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Oh simple thing, where have you gone?

A year ago today, my son found a dead body.

He told me. I looked and explained away what I was seeing. I looked again and then again. I saw the man’s folded eyeglasses resting neatly next to him. Homeless, he went to sleep one night under the stars near Boulder Creek and never woke again. We later learned the man’s name was Jeffrey.

After talking to police, we decided our family day out had to end. We went home. My son and I were the first two in the house. He ran for his room and I grabbed him. We hugged and cried. My husband suggested just the two of us should get out of the house and go see a movie. For weeks, our son had been asking to see Winnie the Pooh.

The trailer features Keane’s song Somewhere Only We Know. Since that day, any time I hear this song or think of Winnie the Pooh, I remember about what happened. The juxtaposition of the beloved childhood classic and the shocking discovery has always struck me as profoundly important. I’ve never publicly identified the son who found Jeffrey, but he is older. He’s not a child who you would expect to still adore Winnie the Pooh.

In many ways, my son matured by bounds that day. He experienced something most people will never experience in their lives, especially ensconced in our first-world bubble. As a mother, I never thought I’d have to help my children through such an experience. The older kids were aware of what happened, so they had their own feelings to sort through and we traveled through it with them. I was 40 years old and it was difficult for me to comprehend. I saw Jeffrey’s face for days. The memory would intrude at random moments. I hardly slept. It was only after we made contact with his family and I learned more about him as a person that the shock changed to action. We channeled our energy into a fundraiser. We collected money to purchase gift cards to distribute to the homeless population in Denver’s Civic Center Park. We also collected toiletries and snack foods with generous donations from friends and businesses.

Since then, my attitude toward the homeless has been different. Have I been the good citizen, dedicating my life to helping them? No. I’ve fallen far short of my goals with helping the homeless. All my good intentions amount to nothing without action of some sort, and I feel ashamed I haven’t maintained the energy and heart I had for the homeless that began a year ago, so suddenly. Our church has a homeless ministry team which goes to Civic Center Park the third Saturday of every month. They distribute food, gift cards, and other essentials. The time and the goods are all donated. I’ve used the excuse of my pregnancy to stay away. It’s not 100% safe, but, as August 13, 2011 proved, life isn’t safe.

There are corners you will turn and the simple things will disappear.

My relationship with my son changed because of Jeffrey, because of timing, because of where we went, because of where my son glanced. It’s somewhere only we know. In sharing this anniversary, my hope is a renewal of my heart toward those who need help. If it touches you, I hope you will think of something to do for the less fortunate in your community. Thank you.

3 comments to Oh simple thing, where have you gone?

  • I will never forget your journey with this experience. You are an amazing active voice blogger, and your experience led me to re-evaluate how I saw the homeless. Blessings. Thank you for sharing it all.

  • It’s hard to believe it has been a year since Jeffrey died. This story has stayed with me constantly since that time. In an interesting twist of timing, earlier this week, someone on a message board I participate in started a discussion entitled, “How do you feel about homeless people?” To my dismay, the vast majority of responses are along the lines of, “They are all scammers and hustlers and addicts, so I don’t give to anyone begging on the street corner.”

    And while I certainly understand why people have this perception, it just made me sad. Because now, when confronted with the issue, I think of you and your son and Jeffrey, and I can’t help but feel compassion.

  • edj

    You have been pregnant. What I think is important is how your attitude has changed, and time will tell how that will play out in your life and your family’s too. This sounds condescending and I don’t mean it that way at all–I’m certainly far from perfect in this regard. I loved how you contacted his family. Maybe when you don’t have tiny ones your whole family will spend a thanksgiving serving meals, or maybe one of your kids will sponsor a blanket drive or something. It’s not over, I guess is what I’m trying to say.

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