When we are children we are taught to hold hands when crossing the street, not to eat paste, to share our toys, and to play nice. As we grow we are often taught to stop sharing, to eat anything we want, even it is bad for us, and play any way we want as long as we win at any cost. It is no wonder that we grow up confused how to be true humans…
My friend Jym Greene was a veteran of the first Gulf Coast war in 1990. He was a Navy Seal and had Gulf War and post traumatic syndrome when he was discharged. He had been chemically injured and when he came home he received no help and became homeless. He was often depressed. He began volunteering with OSL when he was 34.
Every day Jym waited for me to arrive. He always brought a group of his friends and they would take over; setting the food up, getting out cups and plastic cutlery. The people on the street respected him. He was kind and gentle. He was also a genius. He could do anything on a computer and was a proficient hacker. He gave classes at the Library to other homeless people and showed them how to set up email accounts and access information on line. He wrote articles for the “Real Change” newspaper; a paper that supports and advocates for the homeless in Seattle; www.realchangenews.org. He looked like a big Teddy Bear and he walked the streets of Seattle carrying his back pack full of 100 pounds of books.
Jym slept on the bus. He took the bus to the end of the route, woke up, got on another bus and took it to the end of the route. He never got a full night’s sleep. He wouldn’t stay at a shelter because of the pesticides they use. He told me that the pesticides made people very ill. His older brother Don was also homeless. Jym took care of Don. Jym never had an unkind word to say about anybody and everyone loved him. He spent most of his time doing research in the library but he never missed volunteering for a meal. He was always there to help. He had a hard time finding shoes because he wore a size 15. Once I bought him a pair of size 15 Nike Sneakers. The joy on his face made them seem like a $1000 pair of Italian Leather shoes. The gift of his smile is still carried in my heart.
One night, about one in the morning, I was working on a grant and an email came in. It was from Jym’s brother Don. It said simply, “Jym’s Dead”.
The next morning I called the Seattle coroner and found out that Jym had died at the age of 36 of a heart attack carrying his heavy satchel of books up a steep Seattle hill. I asked if they would release his body to me as Jym was homeless and that we would see to his burial. They told me that his family had already had him cremated. I was shocked! I had no idea that Jym and Don had family in the area. The coroner gave me a phone number. I called and spoke to one of Jym’s family members. I asked when Jym’s funeral was. They seemed surprised and said to me “Funeral? There is no funeral. Jym was a bum”. They were ashamed of him. I could not believe my ears. I was stunned for a moment. I was speechless. But then a burning began in me.
“Jym was not a bum” I told them. “He was homeless, but he was not a bum. Jym was a giver to life. He gave to people who needed him. He didn’t care about money or belongings. He only wanted to give to those who were unhappy, unhealthy, and despondent. If you won’t give him a service, we will”.
And so we planned a memorial service for Jym. We held it at the Veteran’s Memorial Wall. I did the music, OSL put on a meal, and hundreds of people, some homeless, some not, came in memory, honor, and celebration of Jym’s life. We invited his family members and had an open mic where people could talk about Jym and what he meant to them. Person after person spoke about Jym’s kindness and consideration, about his selflessness, and how he encouraged positive life changes. Jym’s family learned that Jym was not “just a bum”, but a valued human being; worthy of love, respect, and admiration. They sat and listened while all those Jym had helped spoke about him with love and honored his life. Jym did not value money, or clothes, or belongings; he valued people, and even in his pain and damage, he was a giver to life. Jym was my beloved friend. He owned nothing, but he had everything. Jym taught me humility. He was a true human. I miss him…