Who really cared? His was a routine admission to busy Bellevue Hospital. A charity case, one among hundreds. A drunken bum from the Bowery with a slashed throat. The Bowery . . . last stop before the morgue.
The derelict’s name was misspelled on the hospital form, but then what good is a name when the guy’s a bum? The age was also incorrect. He was thirty-eight, not thirty-nine, and looked twice that. Somebody might have remarked, “What a shame for one so young,” but no one did. Because no one cared.
His health was gone and he was starving. He had been found lying in a heap, bleeding from a deep gash in his throat. A doctor used black sewing thread to suture the wound. Then the man was dumped in a paddy wagon and dropped off at Bellevue Hospital, where he languished and died. But nobody really cared.
A friend seeking him was directed to the local morgue. There, among dozens of other nameless corpses, he was identified. When they scraped together his belongings, they found a ragged, dirty coat with thirty-eight cents in one pocket and a scrap of paper in the other. All his earthly goods. Enough coins for another night in the Bowery and five words, “Dear friends and gentle hearts.” Almost like the words of a song, someone may have thought.
Which would have been correct, for once upon a time that man had written the songs that literally made the whole world sing. Songs like “Camptown Races,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “Old Folks at Home,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and two hundred more that have become deeply rooted in our rich American heritage.
Thanks to Stephen Collins Foster.
Today, some of these forgotten souls are in prison. Some in hospitals. Some in nursing homes. And some silently slip into church on Sunday morning, confused and afraid.
Do you care? Enough “to show hospitality to strangers,” as Hebrews 13:2 puts it? It also says that in doing so, we occasionally “entertain angels without knowing it.”
Angels who don’t look anything like angels. Some might even look like bums from the Bowery, but they may have a song dying in their hearts because nobody knows and nobody cares.
Deep within many a forgotten life is a scrap of hope, a lonely melody trying hard to return.