In Memory of Diane Barnes (1951-2008)
Today, we gather here to share our grief, to mourn, and yet, to also celebrate the life of our dear friend, Diane.
We are in shock at the suddenness of her death, and, in my sadness, I realize that part of my grief lies in my anger at this taking away from us, this inability to say our good byes, to tell Diane thank you for what she accomplished in her life, what it meant to each of us to count her as a friend.
But, then, that is the nature of our fragile and unpredictable lives. We do not know when we, too, shall leave this Earth, and we do not always accomplish everything that we feel needs to be done. And, that is unsettling and unnerving, and flies in the face of our desires to be put things in order, and to make sense out of much of the chaos and randomness that is life.
And, at this time of Christmas, of merry making and happy events, Death is an unwelcome presence. Grieving and facing Death is not on anyone’s Christmas list, especially this year, as we face the many great uncertainties of our economic crisis, and the realization that yet another year has almost past, and we remain a nation at war.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
~ The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. ~
And, that is how Diane lived.
You rarely saw Diane’s name in the newspaper, and she was never a person to seek the limelight, or bring attention to herself. She never sought power or fame, and lived quietly, focused on her desire to help others, to truly make a difference.
Diane spent her time with the least fortunate among us. Every day, she dove into the enormous pit of poverty, hunger, sickness, and desperation that is the world of those among us who have no shelter, no food, and who have become lost in the “system” of our society, and who have exhausted all of their resources.
She spent her time with the desperate, the lonely, the sick, and the dying.
Like many of you in this room, I came to rely upon Diane to find a solution, a helping hand, when there was no alternative, when a person’s life literally hung in the balance, and it seemed as if all the doors were closed, slammed shut by the quirks and impersonal bureaucracy of our health care industry and our ever-shrinking social services.
And, because of Diane, people found health care, they found a place to live, they were fed, they were clothed, they found her warm hand of friendship.
And, most of all, they found compassion and they found respect. They found their dignity.
We all have our stories. We all have our tales of Diane’s miracle making. We all treasured the power of Diane’s Rolodex, crammed full of phone numbers and agencies and compassionate people who were able to make the exceptions to the rules, who were able to add yet another person to a waiting list, or to squeeze in yet another person on a doctor’s or a counselor’s already busy calendar.
Yet, most of all, we knew that when Diane sat down with a person, she put all of her energy into listening to their needs, hearing their story, and making things right.
If there was a solution that seemed impossible to obtain, Diane would be everyone’s choice for that job. And, eventually, she would solve the problem, untie the Gordian Knot, and achieve some justice in this world.
Just last week, I heard yet another Diane the Miracle Worker story. I’ve been dealing with a man for the last four or five months. He’s mentally ill, he’s angry, he’s lonely, and his life is one disaster after another.
I’ve dealt with his legal cases, and ended up evicting him from his single wide trailer. I’ve dealt with his brushes with the law, with his anger, his desperation. He moved into his car, and camped in the brush on Hobsonville Point during most of November, surviving the storms and freezing temperatures with only his dog to keep him warm. And, even then, the police nearly took away his dog when it tried to defend him on a cold, windy night.
Our jail is our emergency mental health clinic, and so he, like so many others, are taken to jail for petty crimes, because there is no other solution. Like the Christmas Story, there was no room at the inn for this man in need of shelter, in need of dignity.
And, of course, Diane became involved. And, today, this man is not in jail any longer. He’s reunited with his dog, and he’s found a place to stay. And, he’s getting the medical care he needs, and food in his belly. A few days ago, a deputy sheriff stopped by his new home, to check on him, and give him a new sleeping bag.
Yesterday, he stopped to tell me that his girlfriend is finally in rehab, and this will be the first Christmas in twenty years that she will be clean and sober. And, I think, in many ways, that is yet another example of Diane’s making of yet another miracle.
This is only one story. And, this story has been repeated time and again. And, it’s just another day in the life of Diane, as she quietly went about her task of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick.
~ Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.--
Today, we live in a community that is renewed, and the lives of the most unfortunate among us have been changed, all because of the kind heart of a great soul, a woman we are all proud and humbled to call our friend.