The man who died upright on a Rittenhouse Square bench
"We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well." -- 1 Corinthians 10:24, The Message
First, before I get into it, let me credit the Philadelphia Inquirer for the headline that I've used directly above as the title of this post. An article of the same headline just published today has moved me so much that I must use the same title to drive the point home: someone who I recognize died just sitting in the park that I walk through frequently.
Here we are once again, losing a Philadelphia icon. I don't use that term blithely. Phil Schultz, who was found dead on a bench in Rittenhouse Square on the morning of October 14th, was a very well-recognized man -- someone who I saw frequently walking the streets of Philadelphia -- and he exuded a quiet dignity -- something that is certainly a God-given gift.
He seemed like a modern-day religious pilgrim, repeating his pilgrimage over and over again in the same circles and routes through Center City. My internal nickname for him was John Brown, like the mid-19th century abolitionist, who I thought he resembled. Observing him, he seemed just as principled and, in a quiet way, just as intense. He always carried a duffel bag with him; as Jesus said, "keep it simple; you are the equipment."
He's one of those people that now, every time I walk to or from Court or walk through Rittenhouse Square, I'm going to be looking for, until I remember that he passed away right in the heart of the city. I myself have spent hours upon hours in Rittenhouse Square, from my days as a paralegal to my days as a law student to now my days as a lawyer. I've sat there. I've laid down in the grass there. I've read books there. I've had great conversations there, with family, with friends, with complete strangers that I've met there. I've laughed there. I've cried there.
Hearing the news that Phil Schultz, my "John Brown," passed away, a piece of my heart hurt. He never knew me, but I certainly felt like I knew him. Think about whether there are people in this world who care about you like that, people who you may not know or remember or ever think about any more. It must be like that with God. God smiles at us when we do good, and God sheds a tear when we sin, but God always loves us, no matter what, whether we know him or remember him or ever think about him. We care about each other in the depths of our souls, even if we don't always show it or know it.
My heart breaks for the homeless people in this city and beyond, who wander not so much through the streets, but who wander metaphysically through this world, often ignored and forgotten. My heart also breaks for those who are equally alone, abandoned in their own homes, away from family and friends, often ignored and forgotten. Why are we so busy that we can't take care of each other more??? At the very least, let's say a prayer right now, send some cosmic, subliminal love to our fellow brothers and sisters, even if they'll never know.