For several months last year, I did Clinical Pastoral Education (don’t ask, it can be explained later) and then was interim pastor at Uptown Ministry, a mission church and outreach center in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. The ministry largely served area homeless, the mentally ill and addicts of various kinds, being a place folks could come in out of the cold, or the heat, have a cup of coffee, talk to pastors like me. (And more serious folks who can actually help…) The ministry has a food pantry and holds worship services twice a week.
I never imagined, in all my born days, that I would love such work. Or that I’d be good at it.
At any rate, Jen and I visited Uptown Ministry today, got to see some old faces and meet some new folks. And I noticed something I always found somewhat perplexing. The ministry has a sign-in sheet, and folks are asked to sign when they first come in.
A few people, not many, will come in, sign the sheet, and walk right back out. They won’t get a cup of coffee, or water, or anything else. they’ll just sign it and leave. What’s that all about?
As I was sitting at the front desk there today, I thought about that a bit (no one did it today, it just wandered across my consciousness as people signed in). Why would anyone do that? Maybe it’s a desire that someone know they were there, that they still exist and they want some proof in ink on paper to show for existing. That someone know who they are, where they are, THAT they are. It’s not much, a signature on a piece of paper, but what do most of us really leave behind? anyway (Aside from our genes, and some of us don’t even have that.)
There was a time when I wanted to leave no evidence behind that I had ever been on earth. My existence, once I was gone, would be utterly erased, would be a matter only between me and God. I wanted all evidence that I’d even walked and breathed and wrote and sung to simply disappear. I’m still somewhat ambivalent about that, though Jennifer and I now have a plan that our mingled ashes will at some point be part of the bed for a bramble of wild roses. But I also trust that somehow, something of me will actually touch the world and remain in it. I don’t know what that would be, or who would carry that, or how it would touch someone else. I trust that will happen, even as I have no idea what it means.
So maybe I too am one of those folks signing the sheet and walking right back into the cold, hoping that my simple signature on a piece of paper means that God knows where I am. Even if no one else does.