Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In Thanksgiving: Michael Randell Mears

I'm thankful for Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs who organized today's memorial service for Michael Mears.  Michael died of hypothermia on February 17, right here in Santa Cruz.  He was a bright light, a troubled man, a biblical scholar and an art history buff.  And he's just one of hundreds who've died in the streets of our idyllic city over the past couple of decades.  Keith put together a beautiful tribute, including classic pictures of Michael and gorgeous spring flowers.  And so many of Mikey's friends turned out, on the sidewalk, just outside City Hall at the center of town.   The memorial was dignified and beautiful, and it reflected so much grace and thoughtfulness on Keith's part.  What a friend Mikey had.

It's a Tuesday night, which means that many of Mikey's friends are there tonight, at City Hall to sleep outside as an act of protest and solidarity.  For 92 Tuesdays, since Santa Cruz made sleeping in public illegal, activists and friends have slept in the street there, and sometimes in the porticoes of City Hall itself--as a moral witness to the dignity of homeless friends and the need for action and compassion in our city.

I met Michael a couple of times over the years.  The first time, I nearly hit him with my car.  He was kind of dancing, kind of wobbling across the traffic at Mission Street and Center.   He was barefooted, as I learned he often was, and half-naked.  He considered clothing kind of optional, and refused warm sleeping bags from friends in favor of a simple blanket for nighttime sleeping.  I pulled over that day and checked on Mikey.  He wasn't in the greatest shape that day, and I called a paramedic over to assess his need for a doctor and some kind of treatment.  When the paramedics arrived, they were great with Mikey, as so many folks were.  They knew him, and trusted him; and he trusted them too. 
Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs
It was both a privilege and a sadness for me to pray at Mikey's memorial.  It was a privilege in the sense that it always is to see friends weeping and sharing the most important stories of their lives and remembering the connections that matter most and make life holy.  It was sad, too, to be reminded that even tonight--as a hard spring rain falls--others will wander the streets of this city without a warm place, drenched to the bone, looking to any number of substances to keep them warm.  Rather than us.  Rather than human beings like me.  Something's wrong with us: not with them, but with us.