At CPX we often talk about the Christian understanding of the value of an individual life. Here Laurel Moffatt tells a profoundly redemptive story of a life lost and found.
I recently met a man named Leslie who had traveled down to Sydney to find his brother. This is him with a picture of his twin brother, Karl. Leslie recently found his brother after a long time looking. It happened like this.
Leslie and Karl were close through what sounds like an uneasy, unsettling childhood. Their dad abandoned them when they were four. After age 14 they grew apart. One week after their 22nd birthday, Karl disappeared.
Leslie told the police that his brother was missing. He asked them to help him find him. He did this over and over again. For 23 years.
In late April of this year, Karl was finally declared a missing person. And just one week after that, at some point on the night of May 5th, while the streets were swept, the garbage collected, Karl died in his sleep on the pavement of York Lane, less than two blocks away from where I sit now.
The police found Karl, and then were able to eventually find Leslie, who travelled down to Sydney to take his brother back home to bury him. Leslie says that in Sydney he found more than just his brother. He found Graciela at The Station, a daytime drop-in centre in the city that provides services such as meals and showers for homeless men and women. She and the other workers there cared for Karl for 13 years. He found Jason, at the pizza place on York Lane, who fed Karl when The Station was closed.
He also found something else: a bank account in Karl’s name, into which all of Karl’s Centrelink payments had been deposited every two weeks. For 23 years.
There was $30,000, and all of it was now earmarked for the next of kin, who in Karl’s case, was the father who had abandoned them over 40 years ago. Leslie asked the fund manager if there were any exceptions. Could any of the money go to the people who had cared for Karl? Unfortunately not. But there was one thing: Leslie could use money from the account for Karl’s funeral and burial.
I think it was something like the wisdom of Solomon that prompted Leslie to ask the manager, “Is there any limit on the amount of money you can spend on a funeral?” Leslie told me that the manager thought for a moment, and then said, “You know what? I don’t think there is.”
Leslie organized a beautiful funeral for his brother. Before the service he hosted a hot lunch at The Station for all the men and women there. There were flowers on every table, hot meals at every place.
He used almost every cent in his brother’s bank account to remember Karl’s life and mark his death with dignity. The best organist in Sydney played hymns; there were orders of service printed on thick white paper; the church swam in flowers. I think that there were more flowers at Karl’s funeral than there are at most of the wedding ceremonies in this church.
Do you know that feeling you get when you smell a rose, or a lily in bloom? That you are in the presence of a Living Thing, the sweetness of its presence altering the fabric of the air around it, charging it with its scent? It was like that with those flowers. Like you were in the presence of something living, breathing, near.
Leslie chose this verse from the Gospel of Luke:
“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Lost and Found. For Leslie, the funeral was both a mourning of his death and a celebration of finding his brother. And those of us at that service were able to join with Leslie in his sad rejoicing.
This is what Leslie said in his eulogy: “I never gave up looking for my brother. I’ve met some beautiful people who looked after my brother. And I know that the first half of his life, I’ll mourn. And the other half of his life, they’ll mourn. And together we’ll get through. The main thing is, he’s coming home.”
While we sang the hymn, Amazing Grace, especially the part about being once lost, but now found, I thought about how God is so doggedly persistent in his love. As a Christian, I believe that God loves his people with a love that doesn’t stop or dwindle away. It keeps going. Kind of like the way that Leslie kept looking. I think of his love for his brother as a reflection of God’s persistent love.
I don’t know how many times I may have passed Karl on the street. Maybe countless times. He lived less than two blocks from my house. But I do know that his story has changed the way I look at people who make the streets their home. They are all someone’s lost treasure, waiting to be found.
Dr Laurel Moffatt is a Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity
This article orginally appeared on Laurel's blog.