During my time at Eastern University I was active in a group called Y.A.C.H.T (Youth Against Complacency and Homelessness Today). Every Saturday morning we ventured into downtown Philadelphia with backpacks full of lunches for the homeless. We were encouraged to take a lunch for ourselves, and to sit and eat with those we met on the streets. On one of these trips a group of my friends had lunch with a man named Jimmy, here is a photo of Jimmy:
Saturday after Saturday we met with Jimmy to learn his story. Before long we realized that Jimmy was nearing the end of his life with his battle with AIDS. The frigid Philadelphia winter was on the way, and many of his friends on the street were worried that Jimmy wouldn’t make it through the winter sleeping on park benches and concrete sidewalks. So we invited him to our home until we could find him some housing for the winter.
For several weeks Jimmy lived with us. He continued to tell us his story, and our relationship with him deepened even more. We found him housing with an organization that provided housing for homeless individuals in their last days. Jimmy died several months later.
Jimmy always said, “I want you to see me.” He was tired of people seeing his AIDS, his struggle with drugs, his poverty. He wanted us to see him, he wanted us to hear his story. I think in many ways he knew that we were going to be the last people to hear it, to see him alive.
There was no memorial service for Jimmy, his ashes were sent to the only known family member he had in the midwest. I think about this now, and Mother Teresa’s words come to me: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy, or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.”
Jimmy’s physical disease was AIDS, but my hope is we helped cure the biggest one he had before he died.
Contributed by Mark Pratt-Russum, youth pastor, West Hills Friends
Photo by Josh Lore