We gathered in the early evening darkness, the city a constant hum of traffic on the streets surrounding us. We gathered and we held our tiny flickering candle lights and listened to the sounds and stood in the silence. Remembering.
People who have walked the streets, stood on corners and asked for change and slept in alleyways and city parks or a mat on the floor in a shelter.
The laughter and the tears. The good times and the bad.
The friendship. The camaraderie. The stories told and those not shared.
Moments we shared. Moments we knew about. And the stories we never knew of where they’d been before. Of where they’d come from before this thing called ‘homeless’ hit.
And as we remembered, as we carried the light in the darkness, the city moved around us, a sibilant, hissing stream of traffic carrying people to and fro the places they needed to be, wanted to go, had to get to.
And we stood surrounded by tall buildings looming in the dark, their windows lit, lights glistening. And our voices called out the names of those we’d lost. Our voices spoke their names into the night and for a moment, their names lit up the darkness and in the stillness between each breath, hearts beat in time, candles glowed and we were one.
Last night, we held the first Longest Night of the Year, a memorial service for those who have passed away in homelessness. About 50 people gathered in a downtown city park to stand together and speak the names of those they knew who had passed away and to write them on a large framed poster.
And one woman came to the mic and spoke of her brother who she’d lost to the streets. They had lived together on the streets. She spoke of gang wars and drugs and fighting and hurting people and lashing out at those who passed by who never saw her, who didn’t know her name but who still chose to call her names and mock her and her brother for their baggy clothes and angry ways. She didn’t care, back then when her brother was alive. She only cared about blocking out the pain, numbing the fear, burying her past. And then, her brother died a violent death.
We must stop the violence, she said. Stop the violence.
And she’s right. We, all of us, must. Stop the violence.
It was a night of remembering and a night of promising to do better. To do more to ensure we do not lose more of us to the dark. We do not lose our way completely.
And we stood together so that we do not forget those who have left who once walked our streets. So we do not forget they once lived amongst us. That they once laughed and joked and told stories and shared a cigarette, a last meal, a last smile.
And I wondered, what if we saw them/this differently?
What if we, the privileged ones, the ones with homes and jobs and places to go, stopped our busy just to see those who walk amongst us with no fixed address as other than ‘homeless’?
What if, we do not see them as ‘other than’ but as all of us?
What if we took time to remember, this is our world, one planet, one earth. One home. For all of us. And we are each responsible for one another. We are all one.
To read more about the Longest Night of the Year: