A week or so ago, LA County held a ceremony at a Boyle Heights cemetery. It was to honor the 1457 individuals who were cremated by the county in 2016 but whose remains have gone unclaimed for these past three years.
The men, women and children who died back then went unclaimed for lots of reasons: perhaps they lost touch with their families, maybe they didn’t have a family and were all alone or maybe their family just couldn’t afford to pay for a service.
So, the county holds an annual interfaith service and remembers those folks. This year, they ended the service with a call-and-response kind of prayer. Apparently, this kind of responsive prayer began during El Salvador’s civil war. It was a way to perpetuate the memory of people who just disappeared. As a name would be called out, a loved one would respond, “Present!” and their memories were preserved.
Well, this year’s ceremony got me to thinking about all the other “invisible people” that may exist in our busy worlds. With the holiday season upon us, our pace of life has accelerated considerably, so even more folks are unseen and ignored.
I gave myself a little test (you might like to do it too) and asked that person in the mirror if she knew the name of a particular happy, “grocery bagger” at my store. He may have some challenges mentally, but is one of the kindest guys I know. I speak to him all the time. But… I don’t know his name.
I have a favorite sandwich shop, been going there for years. A few years ago, it got bought out by one of its long-time employees. I know her. We have had brief conversations many times. We have spoken about her children and their school. But… I don’t know her name.
Every time I take my car into be serviced, the same guy helps me with the paperwork. He calls me by name. But… I can’t remember his.
I doubt that I am much different than most of us. We scurry through our days on a mission. Our energy gets drained by the size and scope of our errands. And soon lots of folks start to fade back into the woodwork. Just like those people buried in LA County, they become invisible to us. We don’t know their name and we don’t know them.
This week might be a great time to slow down a bit and recognize those around us. Let’s introduce ourselves. Learn a name and use it. As we replay those names over and over in our mind, those men and women will become more noticeable as real people.
And if there was a roll call of remembrance, we will be able to respond to their name with a loud “present.” That person will no longer be invisible to us.
I am convinced that our lives will be enriched; our everyday world will become warmer; we will become more personable and prayerfully we will become more Christ like.