I'm Pam, and I'm glad you're here. I hope my thoughts on family, faith, and the flux of life help you laugh, fire you up or just make you think.

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he keeps haunting me

As my husband pointed out, this post isn’t mom blog material.   But this blog is beyond mommy material, right?   I can’t shake my thoughts, so I’m processing by sharing it with you, but be warned:  this is a cold, unspeakably sad, adult tragedy.  Click away if you like.

The story keeps haunting me.  It was shouting out inside my mind when I wrote Monday’s post about the places we avoid.  You can view this tragedy’s photo and full story here. 

It’s just a pair of shoes.  But they happen to be attached to a man frozen at the bottom of an elevator shaft in an abandoned Detroit warehouse.  He fell, or was pushed, or was moved there, and then he froze. 

It gets worse.  No one reported it for about a month.  Homeless people live in this building, “not twenty paces” from that spot.   Urban “explorers” played ice hockey in the basement.   An explorer’s friend called a reporter, and it took several calls and many hours for the agencies to respond.  Eventually they recovered the body, performed an autopsy, and discovered he had a name and a family: 

Johnnie Redding, 1952-2008(9?) (held by his brother Homer):

Homer Redding of River Rouge holds a photograph taken in the mid 1970's of his late brother Johnnie Redding . (Bryan Mitchell/Special to the Detroit News)

The public outcry over this has been justifiably angry and shocked.  How could this happen?  How could people be so callous, so cold and uncaring, that they didn’t DO something?  I’m more heartsick.  People are very quick to blame and shame the man, his family, or the city of Detroit.  I have no answers.  Only personal thoughts and questions.

  • How did Johnnie end up here?  Was it on his own or at the hand of someone else?  Did he have family?  Did they report him missing?  We now know he did have family, and he’d been missing for months.  Many can’t believe the family wasn’t out there looking for him. 
  • I’ve had a close family member go missing, more than once.  It’s very complicated.  When someone doesn’t want to be found, it is very difficult to find him.  My family has called police, hired private detectives, and scoured unspeakable places in strange cities.  It wasn’t until this person reached out that he was “found”  (and the ending is happy, in case you’re wondering).  So yes, I can believe Johnnie had family who loved him.  I don’t know the whole story, but I feel heartsick compassion for them.  I do not blame them. 
  • How could the people who saw Johnnie’s body not report it?  It’s an easy question for us in the mainstream to ask.  We expect the authorities to respond.  The warehouse people are survivors of a life we cannot imagine, living in subzero temperatures, which may be the least of their problems.  What pain have these people survived?  What tragedy has seared their souls so they are not compelled to react to a shocking (to us) discovery?   Or were they unsure how to go about it (and get through the consequences)?   And what about those urban explorers?  What other things have they found before that this discovery did not end the game?  I must believe that they are human, that somewhere deep down they do care.   How do scarred people find that human place again?
  • Why did the city not respond more quickly?   Does this happen often?  I cannot explain, except to wonder how overwhelmed the city agencies are with urgent, life-threatening emergencies that they are slow to react where a life cannot be saved.   I must believe that the people do care.  With limited resources, in a declining city like Detroit, how do we rebuild our systems to support human dignity?

The thought that has been haunting me most: how bad is it going to get?  This isn’t the only frozen, lonely person in the news this month.  The outrage over this story has provided a wake-up call, but I do fear the impact on the poorest of the poor will get worse.   I just pray that our human compassion will overcome our fears to step in and find solutions.  We need to stop blaming, and keep connecting.

“There but for the grace of God” go I.

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9 comments to he keeps haunting me

  • I love that you’re not angry and judging here, keeping your mind open to all aspects. It’s true, we do need to ask how bad it’s going to get and ask ourselves what we’re going to do to play a part in improving things.

    Heather of the EO’s last blog post..Always both

  • I love the two questions you ask here. (And, like Heather said, looking for solutions rather than blaming or judging.)
    That attitude brings an element of hope to this tragedy.

    charrette’s last blog post..Stage Dive…or NOT.

  • pam

    Thanks so much. I worried about whether this was appropriate to post here, but I really felt compelled to write about it. It’s so easy to blame “them” for letting this happen, but the big question to me is how do we let these things happen?
    Thanks for following my roller coaster of thoughts!

  • It is a mommy blog post for me. It (once again) raises a question in me. How do I teach my KIDS compassion? True compassion? Our lives are sometimes so isolated from the hardships of others. We travel within circles of people mostly like us. How do we teach our children to reach out?

    So far, for me: Giving. Gifts of Money, yes. Gifts of “things” too. But more importantly, more personally – gifts of time. The hard part for me is finding those opportunities BECAUSE we are so removed from the hardship.

    Julie Stiles Mills’s last blog post..warning: I failed submission school.

  • I don’t have children, and even so I agree with Julie Stiles Mills that this is a Mommy post. We learn, then we can teach, and asking questions is one of the very best ways of learning.
    We have unusually severe snow in the UK at the moment (nothing like you guys get, but bad by our standards!). It’s meant that in my town no-one’s been out and driving unless absolutely necessary and today, the first fine day, I went to stock up my bare food cupboards at the supermarket. Because of delivery disruptions, some items were running out.
    This lengthy preamble is leading up to saying how shocked with myself I was when I found myself physically pushing and shoving to beat other people and grab the last one of a couple of items. And I’m really not an aggressive person. We revert to survival instinct so quickly. And with everything else going on in life, it quickly becomes acceptable to play hockey around a frozen corpse.

    Tess Giles’s last blog post..Leadership, Benedictine style

  • I also posted about this tragedy last month called Detroit’s Shame . However, I am enlightened to see that the man has been identified and someone has come forward who knew him. Your post raises a lot of issues that still seem to be unanswered. I still cannot comprehend how those who discovered the body went on to play hockey or continued on with their lives knowing what they knew.

    Annie’s last blog post..Lessons From Love

  • Something similar happened years ago when I was working for a publisher in Detroit, in the Book Tower building. Unless people live in or near big cities, they are not touched by the realities of the homeless. With our economy being in worse shape now, the plight of the homeless population is more serious than ever. Thanks for shining a hard light on this issue here.

    Cindy L.’s last blog post..Ode to “Joy”

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