Adele Elliott: Brother's keeper

January 24, 2011 8:03:00 AM

Adele Elliott - [email protected]


"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of ... the main ... any man''s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." John Donne 1624 




The death of Hozzie Hawthorne last week was painful to so many in our area. There is something surreal about the knowledge that an old man could freeze to death in this place known as "The South." 


Our part of the world is associated with images of lush gardens and fragile belles. Summer can be oppressive here; usually, winters are mild. Now, we learn that a 72-year-old man died in his own bed because he did not have heat. How can we not be shocked? 


Three days later Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made a speech proclaiming that non-Christians are not his brothers or sisters. (And on Martin Luther King Day, no less!) 


In Houston, Texas, Bobby and Amanda Herring, who had fed homeless people for more than a year, were stopped by authorities. They were told they needed a permit. "And city officials say the couple most likely will not be able to obtain one." (Houston Chronicle 1-13-11) 


We have isolated ourselves into little islands, little pockets. Our world is shrinking. The list of "acceptable" people just gets smaller. Apparently, we like it that way. 


Hozzie Hawthorne begged on the streets of Columbus. (That must have been very difficult.) But, he was almost invisible. Most people turn away at the sight of someone perceived to be sub-human. Confronting extreme poverty is disturbing and awkward. 


Sameness is comfortable. Gov. Bentley only likes those with his tenets -- exactly. Although he claims that he wants to be our brother (MSNBC 1-19-11), he truly seems insincere. It''s not hard to wonder if he is equipped to lead an entire state. I imagine there are a few non-Christians among his constituents, even in Alabama. His statement assumes that everyone really wants to be his "brother." Certainly, some do not. 


The Herrings, in Texas, tried to reach out, but were thwarted by laws that are well-meaning, but damaging. In some ways they are the only heroes of this story. However, they are out of business at this time. 


Although Bobby and Amanda Herring put the label of "Christianity" on their work, they make no distinctions based on the beliefs of the hungry, and probably think of them all as "brothers." 


John Donne might be surprised to see how detached we have become. His poem has little meaning in this era of greed and ego. Martin Luther King, as well, was a Christian minister with broad ideas about equality. He fought for people of different religions and races. I wonder what he would think of us now. Christ loved children and sinners without prejudice. In all these centuries we have learned so little. 


I am weary of this "island life." I am so sorry that people around me are hungry and cold. It''s time for me to build a raft to the mainland and embrace my sisters and brothers, homeless, heathen or different in any way. 


Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at [email protected]

Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.