On a damp, cold December night Donald Black was back on the streets of Detroit. Without a permanent home, Donald spent years downtown, much of it living outside. This time was different. He was inside of a casket.
Cars whizzed by on Jefferson as six of us lifted the shiny, black container out of the hearse. Brian Joseph from the Charles Verheyden Funeral Home was particular that things be done respectfully. He gave us white gloves so our fingerprints wouldn’t smudge the polished surface.
We took Donald into Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church for his funeral. No relatives came. When Donald died in August there were unsuccessful attempts to find one. So Donald’s body fell into the care of Fr. Tim McCabe, SJ, executive director of the Pope Francis Center in Detroit.
Donald was a regular guest at the center, which provides food and supportive care to people suffering from homelessness. Sometimes that care extends to death and looking after a guest the world has forgotten.
Several of Donald’s friends from the center did come to the funeral. There were about 20 other attendees, too. Mostly staff, volunteers and people associated with the Pope Francis Center, which holds a memorial for people like Donald every Dec. 21. It’s not a coincidence that’s the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
In his homily, Fr. Tim spoke of the light sparked in each one of us when we are born. A light that doesn’t extinguish, no matter how long the night or how much we struggle through life. He singled out the inequality we see every day. Of a world where billionaires pay for joyrides in space, while bodies lay unclaimed at local hospitals.
“No one should have to live on the margins of our society,” Fr. Tim said.
I never knew Donald. And I never met any of the other 28 men and women whose names were read by Pope Francis Center staff as a bell chimed for each one. Some of them only had first names.
Fr. Tim’s words made me think how they started life like we all do – innocents. We certainly don’t all begin with the same advantages and opportunities. And we battle our demons large and small. But we deserve to leave knowing we mattered somehow, somewhere to someone.
Each day now brings a little more light. As we kick off a new year, the busy schedules, the commitments and obligations — battling an unrelenting virus — it’s worth considering how each of us work through the timeless cycle of dark and light. And what we can do for others when the darkness becomes overwhelming.
Note: Here are the names of those celebrated at the Homeless Persons’ Memorial, Dec. 21, 2021, Detroit:
Roger Wright, Richard Hayes, James, Donald Black, Robert Randall, Renee Baldwin, Loretta Williams, William Perdue, Keith Vandeventer, Elijah Gaut, Reginald King, Kenneth Simpson, Charles Jackson, Lori King, Phillip Krause, Larenzo Johnson, Eric Gorman, Billy Shugart, Abe Hagenston, Romeo Plevin, Allison Sabatini, Katie McHale, Nadia Timberson, Ed, Kiki, Tiffany, Jason, Courtney, Ray Demarest