In 2014 a stranger came a to our worship service on Sunday morning. He was clean and well dressed with a jacket and tie, but his roller bag suitcase gave him away as someone without permanent housing. I, and many of you, greeted him and over the next months and years we got to know a lot of the story of his life. Charles Edward Smith, known to us as Charlie, was born and raised in Humboldt County.
He served in the US Navy, and attended College of the Redwoods following his time in the Navy. During his college years Charlie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for which he received life-saving medical treatment that enabled him to live for more than 20 years, many of them in Thailand where he worked as an English teacher. Because of an unstable political situation in Thailand, he returned to live in Eureka in 2014. After his return to Humboldt County he was never able to find permanent housing or regular work. Side affects of the life saving treatment he had received years earlier caused disabilities that made him unable to hold a job and would ultimately lead to complications that contributed to his death at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eureka on August 27, 2017 at the age of 49. At the time of his death I was helping Charlie appeal the denial he had received for Social Security disability benefits, and he was among those we call “homeless” in Eureka, one who many look down on as having less value than others, but as Paul said in his letter to the church at Rome, “God shows no partiality,” and this church fully welcomed Charlie as a member and when he died with no resources we paid for his cremation costs and arranged for his burial in the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo, near Redding where my husband Rob and I attended the burial of his remains in the fall of 2017.
On our way home from a week’s vacation last month Rob and I made a detour to see the marker on Charlie’s grave. It touched me deeply to see that though in life Charlie died with less than many, in death the marker over his grave is just like that of all the other veterans buried there regardless of rank or material success. The marker bears the United Methodist cross and flame signifying his membership in this part of the Christian family and the word Namaste, a word that in Hinduism accompanies a gesture of bowing with hands pressed together, fingers pointing upwards and means, “I bow to the divine in you.” Charlie was a loving, gentle soul who saw the light of God in all he encountered, as he greeted them with hands pressed together and the word Namaste.
On this second anniversary of the death of Charles Edward Smith may we hold his memory in our hearts and commit our lives to following in the way of Jesus who called us to love all without showing partiality.