Dead man on the sidewalk

He is lying in the middle of the street, wrapped in a blanket, semiconscious. Earlier, someone was concerned enough to call the paramedics. The paramedics picked him up by the arms, dragged him to the sidewalk, determined he did not need medical transport, and left.

When the paramedics find him, nobody is with him. No one comes to check on him. He has no water and is lying wrapped in a blanket on a sidewalk. In Phoenix, the pavement can be so hot it will burn skin.

That was three hours ago. Someone just noticed that he has not moved in awhile. He has died, but we don’t know when he passed because no one checked on him before now.

Image courtesy Elizabeth Odhner

The paramedics come by again, determine the man dead, but leave quickly with nothing to do. The police arrive and sit in their car, waiting for the medical examiners. They’ll likely be waiting a long time. In The Zone — the part of the city near the Catholic Worker House, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters — it often takes forever for the medical examiners to show up.

Today I’m running late. I missed morning services and get here just as he is found dead. I’m greeted by Paul, who is sitting on the curb.

“I always wait.” he says.

Now, Paul is by far my favorite guest at the Catholic Worker House. He is a man of much wisdom and endless joy.

“If we do not love them in death, how will people know they are loved in life?” Paul asks.

I sit on the curb next to the body with Paul and wait for the medical examiners for several hours. Meanwhile, people all around us continue with their lives.

Steve (who is sober today) likes to sweep the street when he is not using. He keeps sweeping and never looks at the dead man on the sidewalk.

A lady comes by and asks me for a pair of pants. I run downstairs to grab some for her, wondering if she notices the dead man on the sidewalk.

A man needs help making a phone call. He is stranded in Phoenix, trying to go back to his family in South Carolina, and does not understand the automated phone system of the bus company. Preoccupied with his own worries, he doesn’t seem to notice the man dead on the sidewalk either.

A couple enjoys each other’s company. He gives her a piggyback ride and runs down the street.

A lady rides by on her bike and stops to talk to a friend. The conversation ends and she quickly moves on.

Lunch services continue. Showers are offered. People go to the office to make phone calls.

I know life continues after death, but how is it that life goes on with no recognition of the dead man lying on the sidewalk?

As Paul and I sit on the curb, holding our own little vigil, we answer people’s questions, directing them to resources, and try to figure out the name of the man who died. Just a few people seem to notice him.

“Who is the stiff today?” a passerby asks.

“Do you know there is another one at the gas station 10 blocks away? He was stabbed,” someone else says.

Paul and I sit together on the curb for three hours waiting for the medical examiner to show up to take pictures and move the body. (I learn later that another volunteer found out what had happened and called a friend on the county board of supervisors to investigate the wait time for the medical examiner. The examiner showed up 30 minutes after that phone call.)

At first, I am disturbed by the lack of indignation. Even more so, though, I’m disturbed by the lack of response at all.

I’ve been volunteering In The Zone for over nine years and little makes me uncomfortable. Yet, the lack of discomfort makes me uncomfortable. So I ask: How do I continue to maintain a heart of discomfort? How do we not fall into despair? How do I joyfully serve while continuing to question why so many people lack access to shelter? How do I continue to joyfully serve while continuing to question, challenge, and overturn the systems that continue to hold people down? How do I maintain this discomfort when my own everyday life is full of comfort?

Now, months have gone by since the unknown man died alone on the street. I still do not know his name. Many more — whose names are also unknown — have died alone on the same street.

Meanwhile, my life continues. Again and again I show up, say friendly hellos to those I encounter, and do as Paul says, help “make sure people know they are loved.”

In the Andre House Catholic Worker, Phoenix, AZ

Elizabeth Odhner

Elizabeth-DiedrichOriginally from Madison, Wisconsin, Elizabeth Odhner is an emergency room nurse in Phoenix, Arizona. She spends her free time with her new husband working for immigrant rights and volunteering at a free clinic and a homeless outreach center. She lives in a community providing radical hospitality to immigrants and refugees. She and Sister Julia have been friends ever since Elizabeth studied at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois, the city in which they were both members of the same cooking club. For fun, Elizabeth enjoys making pottery and taking day trips outside the city.



By guest blogger Elizabeth Diedrich

It is 7 p.m. and there are two things on my mind: I am hungry and I need to use the bathroom.

Dinner service ended a half hour ago but one person has yet to leave. I wait at the back door, ready to finish my job, which involves making sure everyone has left and locking the door.

I spent two years volunteering full time at André House and now volunteer part time there. André House, a soup kitchen in downtown Phoenix, Ariz., provides basic-need services including a nightly soup line that averages 630 plates per night.

This gentleman is taking his time to finish his meal, pack his bags and move on. I have not seen him before and I try not to hurry people who are not causing a problem. The only thing in a hurry that evening was my own patience.

I tend to move fast and focus on to-do lists. He is taking his time and slowly appreciating each moment. I have no significant reason to rush him so I try to accept his pace.

He finishes his meal and slowly takes his tray up to the dishwasher. Returning to his seat he carefully packs his belongings, putting each item in its own place in his backpack. Then, carefully unrolling his bedroll and blanket, he proceeds to reroll them. Securing the bed roll to his backpack he stands up to stretch.

In my head I continue to tell myself to be patient and constantly repeat my to-do list: lock up building, turn off lights, eat dinner, study, clean, go through emails and write a paper. And this list goes on. Yet right now, all I can do is wait.

Then he walks over to the prayer table, taking a few moments to look over the books, pamphlets, rosaries and prayer box on it. He examines each item; reading the materials, rearranging them and observing the flowers and statues.

I remind myself that I have no vital reason to rush right now, but I am not good at waiting. Yet somehow, in the next moment, I begin to wonder: “How often do I check my email or Facebook page on my phone when I could just be still? How often do I fill time with business when I could stop and slow down, appreciate and look more closely at the things around me?”

The man picks up his bag and a book from the prayer table. Walking over to me, he asks if he could have the bible he found. “Of course,” I say, and tell him to have a safe evening. But still he does not leave. He tells me how lucky he is to have a bible. This bible is perfect for him: large print so he can see it under the street lamp at night. It has a soft cover so it is bends in his backpack and will not poke him.

Photo by Global Awareness Through Experience (GATE)

Then he goes on to tell me about his blanket–a Mexican, woven blanket of many colors. It is light weight and easy to carry. He admires its multiple colors. It is tightly woven to keep him warm and also protect him from the ground. He talks slowly as he explains all the things he likes about his new-found bible and his over-used blanket.

Then he looks me straight in the eye and says, “What do I pray for if I am over-blessed?”

Here I am, impatiently waiting for him to leave so I can go home to my safe apartment, a hot dinner and my warm bed.

And here he is, over-blessed, going out to spend another night on the streets with nothing but a bible and a warm blanket.

On the corner of 12th Ave. and Jefferson

True story shared by guest blogger Liz  Diedrich

I was happy to see William pull up next to me on his bike. Last I heard he had been stabbed in a fight and I did not know the extent of his injuries. Surprised at the opportunity, I ask him how he was doing. He seems embarrassed about his injuries and the fact he was fighting; he says he was fine but really blows the question off.

I have known William for three years and I have seen him on and off “the wagon” twice as many times. I know he is an alcoholic. I know he finds himself in a lot of fights. I changed the bandages on his gunshot wound a few years ago. We have a good rapport and I feel comfortable teasing him and challenging him.

So I continue to push a bit. I ask about the fights, work, housing and his alcohol addiction. He is not really in the mood to chat so I continue on my walk to work and he starts to peddle away. But then he stops me.

“What is the beginning of 1st John all about?” he asks.

Confused and surprised, I respond, “What William?”

“I was reading my Bible last night, and I was reading John and it did not make sense. I could not sleep because it did not make sense,” he responded quickly.

“William, are you talking about the Book or the Gospel?” I ask, secretly hoping he is asking about the Gospel.

“The Gospel. What is all this talk about the Word, and God, and light about?”

So I sit down. He sets his bike down and sits with me. I pull my Bible out of my bag. And together on the corner of 12th Ave. and Jefferson we have a Bible study. In the part of town where drug dealers, prostitution, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens exist. In the part of town people try to avoid. Here we are sitting on the corner having an impromptu Bible study.

Street signs for 12th Avenue and Jefferson Street

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,

and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be through him was life,

and this light was the light of the human race;

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.  –John 1:1-5

We talk through each verse. We take each line and individually look at its meaning. We discuss the passage as a whole.

It’s simple. We do not use the word exegesis or talk about homoiousios vs. homoousios. It’s beautiful. Two people are caught in a moment; two people are finding God; two people are drawn together by grace.

“So really, it’s all about Jesus. Jesus and God. And Jesus saved us. And Jesus is still the Light. That’s it?”

 “Yep, William, it really is that simple.”

the prayer box

Guest blogger Liz Diedrich

Praying is hard. It is hard to find time to pray. It is hard to stay focused. It is hard to quiet one’s mind and listen for the subtle movements of God. It is hard when we feel far from God, and it is hard when God asks things of us that we do not want to hear.

I wish a prayer upon my little sister Molly. She has become an alcoholic. I love her. Amen

At André House one the most important things we do is pray for our guests. In the main dining room of the hospitality center we have a prayer table. Here we have paper, pens, and a prayer box where guests (and volunteers and staff) can write their prayer intentions. At our noontime prayer we pray the intercessions from the prayer table.

"Jesus of the Electrical Boxes" (In the main dining room at Andre House)

I pray Lord, please help me know where to live, where to start the journey, where to end the journey. Thanks. Amen.

It is very intimate to share the prayer intentions. A person’s prayers come from the silent longing of their hearts and are raw expressions of their deepest desires. We see prayers of hope, despair, joy, and thanksgiving.

I’m such a sucker. I get paid and throw it away on others. I am so tired. Death would be a welcome relief. Lord, help me learn to help me. Amen. -Nick

Sometimes, I find the hardest part of prayer is honesty with God. In prayer we are called to let go of the walls we put around ourselves and let go of our worldly self-consciousness. We are called to authentically and completely open ourselves to the grace of God.

Help, God, I am begging, I need to stay clean. Amen.

In prayer we are called to continually deeper our relationship with God and to become self aware of our shortcomings and our needs. We are called to honestly look at ourselves and humbly ask God for the grace to lead us according to God’s dream for our lives.

Dear most gracious father God I ask in your son Jesus name that my children come home to me and papa. Amen.

As we discover the areas of our lives where we fall short, prayer is an occasion to bring these things before God and ask for help.

I ask the Lord for a special anointing – the kind of anointing that whatsoever I touch or whomsoever I walk by, they would be blessed. Please also pray that God humbles me and makes me like Christ through and through. Amen.

Often when I am having a hard time with prayer, when I cannot stay focused or I am frustrated by my day, I turn my prayer into a prayer of thanksgiving. At the end of the day I work to quiet my mind by recalling the moments throughout the day that I am thankful for, the moments where God was present in my day.

Thank you God for everything, even the things I don’t see and help the little girl I saw on the bus today. Amen.

It is a blessing and privilege to share these prayers with our guests and in our community. This last prayer was a prayer left on the prayer table in thanksgiving for André House for all of those who pass help with our ministries.

A prayer for André House – may God find you in his mercy and his grace for all you have done for everyone. Amen.

Fascination of the mundane

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

“Hola. Hello. How are you?” For the past two years every conversation I have had with Carlos has been the exactly the same. “I am well. How are you?” Or every once in a while I will respond in Spanish. “Buena. Como estas?” Then, Carlos in his heavy accent laughs at me and says, “Good. Thank you.” You have candy for throat?” I hand him his chough drops and he leaves the office.

Around André House everyone knows Carlos. He has a very distinct voice and he has some version of the same conversation with everyone. Actually, he has the same conversation with a person each time he sees that person. This means I may say “Hello. How are you?” with Carlos five times a day. Two years of the same conversation. I never really thought about this.

Then one day we had a different conversation.

Pencil, notebook and eraser

It was just Carlos and me in the office and he asked for a pencil, eraser and pencil sharpener. He told me he likes to draw. He picked up a small piece of paper, a piece no larger than a playing card, and sat in front of me at the desk and drew me a picture. He drew a simple picture of reeds, a fish, birds, a scene from a pond. I was mesmerized as he drew. It was not his drawing that was mesmerizing; it was that after two years of exactly the same conversation Carlos was now a different person to me. He had learned my name two years ago and had practiced many times saying it correctly. Today, as his drawing was finished he took a second piece of paper and practiced writing my name. Eight times he practiced writing my name.

It is easy for life to become mundane. It is easy to become caught up the daily grind. It is easy to follow the in and out of a daily schedule. How often do you sit down at the end of the day and you cannot even remember everything that you did throughout the day? I think this is especially true in relationships. It is easy to become static in relationships. I can often see this very clearly in community. After 10 months together we can exchange thoughts without words, we can predict when a person will not be able to follow through, we know each others’ likes and dislikes and can read each other with fairly good accuracy. This brings comfort and fluidity to our daily work.

Yet, it also inhibits us from challenging each other and being open to listening.

Similarly with family or friends, often conversations operate on a superficial level and lack the depth that brings about new ideas and the possibility of transformation. I think what we need more of is a healthy, childlike fascination with our daily events and the people in our lives. Fascination is a strong word, but I think it is the best one to describe what is needed to make a relationship flourish.

In the preface of The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell writes: “Our instinct as humans, after all, is to assume that most things are not interesting. We flip through the channels on the television and reject ten before we settle on one. We go to a bookstore and look at twenty novels before we pick the one we want. We filter and rank and judge.” Gladwell suggests that we must move beyond our human instinct and develop a constant consciousness to our lack of knowledge of each other in order to gives us the freedom to continue to learn and transform relationships.

Furthermore, a constant fascination of apparently mundane events grants us the ability to see the miracles of our daily lives. It may seem awkward to try and hold a conscious fascination with the world, but if you take a moment, take a breath, and stop to wonder and awe miracles will appear everywhere.

Photo credit:

Coloring outside the lines

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

Scripture reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Scripture Readings: 1 Samual 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

“This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus maintains a continual conversation with the religious leaders of his day. In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees question him for his actions.

I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew. He grew up in the traditions and customs of the Jewish people. He called the temple His Father’s house. He worshiped in the synagogue on the Sabbath and celebrated Passover.

The Pharisees had painted a picture in their mind of what it meant to be Jewish. Anything that deviated from this picture was neither faithful to Judaism nor to God. Thinking inside the box is safe. The status quo is comfortable. Coloring inside the lines is easy.

Yet, Jesus never let his life be defined by the Pharisees. He constantly challenged the Pharisees to expand their ideas of what it meant to be a faith-filled servant. Jesus did not fit in the Pharisees’ picture. Jesus colored outside the lines. He loved his enemy, overturned the money tables, and healed on the Sabbath.

Some lines are good. They act as a guide, show us wisdom, and can help lead us into community with others. Yet, when lines become too rigid, they separate us from each. Rigid lines cause us to not be able to think of the world in a different way and can lead us to become unconscious of the decisions and actions we make each day.

Our faith is not a color-by-numbers assignment. Rather, God gives us a gigantic box of crayons. We have the options of different colors, different combinations, and different patterns. We are called to color outside the lines of class, gender, race, religion, age, peer groups, politics, and social and economic classes. As Jesus said, “we are to become like children” and our lives are to be a canvas full of color, light, imagery, and the love of God and neighbor drawn out through radical action and love.

This week I invite you to reflect what lines you have drawn that you need to cross over. Where have unbending lines been drawn that inhibit faith? What areas of your life need color? Where in your life has Christ’s light not shined? Today is the day to break out your box of crayons and color your life to reflect the radical Gospel message of Christ.

Originally from Madison, WI, this week’s guest blogger, Elizabeth Diedrich, is currently a Catholic Worker at Andre House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. She spends her free time hiking, playing Euchre, and making pottery. Elizabeth and Sister Julia enjoy sharing tea, chocolate, cheese and long conversations on peace and justice. Read Liz’s other Messy Jesus Business guest blog entry, in your own soul.

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“in your own soul”

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

I work at a homeless outreach center that serves about 400 people each day. Every day I have the opportunity to hear the stories of the people we serve. These people are my friends: Dan, Hector, Allen … I enjoy seeing them every day (checking in on each other and supporting each other through challenging times). I hear about their kids, their apartment searches, their job hunt, and often stories from their past. Some, although fewer than you might think, are addicts, dealers or have committed violent crimes.

Hearing a person’s story is a privilege but it can also be a burden. There are times I find it easier not to know too much about a person’s past. When you hear the worst stories about drugs, prostitution, murder and violent crimes,  it’s easy to judge the act (especially extreme acts) and the person.

This past week was difficult on the street. There were two stabbings and one reported death. I know one of the men who was stabbed. I have known him for two years. I know he gang raped a 14-year-old girl. I have seen him fight guys half his size. He is violent, manipulative, angry and two-faced. Honestly, I don’t really like this guy, and sometimes I feel some acts are unforgivable. This man survived the stabbing but I could not honestly pray in thanksgiving for his life or pray for his healing and recovery.

Yet, I was reading a prayer by Thomas Merton last night:

So instead of loving what you think is peace,

love others and love God above all.

And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers,

hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.

If you love peace,

then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed –

but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Merton’s prayer reminds me that I must first judge myself; I must reflect on my interior life and exterior actions before judging others. As I see this man – and so many others – addicted, dealing and violent, I know that I hold the same sins in my heart.

There are definitely things in my life that I am addicted to and I would not easily give up – daily internet access and coffee come to mind. There are things in my life that I “deal.” I have more than once been called an enabler when it comes to food and drink. Although I am not normally violent, there are times in my life where my anger toward others has been greater than my love towards others.

It is easy to judge people who have already been judged by society and seem so different from myself. It is as I reflect on my own shortcomings that I see that I am not so different from those I quickly judge. At the most basic level we are all sinners, we all have areas that need work. Christ came to forgive all of us, no matter the sin, no matter how big or small, we are all welcomed into the forgiving arms of Christ.

From my daily experiences, I know that I cannot change the addicts and dealers I see every day, but I have the power to continually change myself. I have the power to look at my interior life, see where I fall short, see the qualities that I quickly judge in others, and attempt to better myself. If I so desperately wish for a more peaceful world, I must first call for a revolution in my own heart.
Christ of the Breadlines, by Fritz Eichenberg

Originally from Madison, WI, this week’s guest blogger, Elizabeth Diedrich, is currently a Catholic Worker at Andre House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. She spends her free time hiking, playing Euchre, and making pottery. Elizabeth and Sister Julia enjoy sharing tea, chocolate, cheese and long conversations on peace and justice.

Photo credit: