All Those Lonely Souls

for the week of June 18, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

A "FAX of Life" reader from Florida shared a story with me that you should know too. He has given his permission for me to relay it.

The owner of a funeral home who mentored him in the same business used to operate a mortuary up north. Every morning he swept off his front walk or shoveled off snow that had fallen overnight. As he went about this daily chore, he spoke to passers by and made friends. One of the people he befriended was a homeless fellow who was ill-clothed, smelled bad, and always needed a shave.

He befriended him to the degree that the two often shared coffee. He would occasionally invite him to use the bathroom in his upstairs apartment to take a stab at cleaning up a bit from the filth of life on the streets. The man offered his first name to his benefactor, but never anything more.

One day the homeless man gave his friend a card with a telephone number and a woman's first name written on it. His instruction was that the funeral director was to call that number and speak to that lady when he died.

Years went by. Eventually the man did not show up one morning, and a call came that his body was at the city morgue. The mortician claimed the body, transported it to his funeral home, and called the number he had been given so long ago. It belonged to the man's sister, who authorized bathing, embalming, and otherwise preparing her brother for burial. She would be arriving soon.

When the director met her and gathered the details necessary for an obituary, he recognized the family name one of the best-known names in corporate America at the time. According to the woman's account, her brother simply left his office one day and never came back! Thus a multi-millionaire entered the ranks of the homeless in America for the last several years of his life.

Why did he do it? Maybe life was too stressful. Maybe he didn't like the role he had to fill for the company. "Perhaps he just wanted to be a regular guy," surmised the friend who saw to his burial. No, he did more than bury him. He affirmed the dignity and worth of another human being. Ironically, the two often shared the very product that bore the homeless man's last name when together!

Look past labels black or white, Asian or Hispanic, schooled or illiterate, rich or poor, healthy or handicapped to see persons in the image of God. Only then can the lonely among us be brought into the community of human dignity.

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