Susan Traylor says “When they see the cross on the table, they know someone has died.” The ‘they’ she is talking about are the many folks experiencing homelessness in our small community of Tarpon Springs, Florida.
A few weeks ago, the cross was on the table for Terry. I knew him by sight but never knew his name. I observed him over the past few years quite often in a state that makes most people not only uncomfortable, but anxious and fearful as he argued with someone only he could see. He lived in a world that few of us have experienced, but may have seen from time to time expressed through odd mostly erratic behaviors of folks out in the world. Mostly we don't know them and see them in quick glances. Terry lived in the woods outside of town.
A few years back, Susan arranged for him to re-connect with his family and meet his sister at our library which is where I would see him sometimes. His sister showed up and waited and waited, but Terry never appeared, He remained pretty much estranged from his blood family for the rest of his life.
When they found Terry in the woods, it was where Susan said they would find him. She directed the officers to the site and when the emergency vehicles were seen, it meant just one thing to the other folks who lived in the woods or frequented the same community kitchen and accessed the same services. They had found a body - one of their own.
Terry had been away for a while and I had pretty much forgotten about him. When he reappeared I saw a man transformed - clean shaven, looking alert and aware and for lack of a better word – ‘clear’. I don't know what caused his transformation and he died shortly after that. Ironic is one word that comes to mind, but another is ‘dignity’. Terry died with dignity having re-claimed that elusive part of himself we hadn’t seen – ever. Susan Traylor saw it in him all along.
Susan is one of those earth angels who would be the last person in the world to see herself that way. She is a one-woman support system of some of the most challenged and challenging in our midst, including the chronically homeless.
The day of the memorial Susan set up the table with the cross. That day, it was at a local church. She had contacted Terry's mom and invited her to attend and created a memory booklet of photos taken over the years to share with her and his friends as they paid their respects.
What Susan did and does may seem like a small thing – a simple thing, I think it’s much more. She remembers the lost and forgotten as they leave this world and go to wherever folks go after death. Susan sees every life as worthwhile and sacred and loved – not forgotten, not dismissed, not as the ‘other’ but as part of our community. Part of us that will be lost forever, but not lost without being ‘seen’.