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.
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):
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.