It’s been nearly two weeks now since Sanctuary’s beloved James Smith died. I haven’t written about him sooner, because I just haven’t had the emotional energy, or the desire to acknowledge that he’s truly gone.
As many others have acknowledged, James was ready to go home, and if he had died after a lengthy stay in hospital (as some of our friends have), his parting would have felt different. But he was attacked, seemingly randomly, just a block away from Sanctuary and just a couple of hours after I (and many others) gave him a hug and said goodnight. He died violently and alone, and this feels so wrong. I wish we, his community, could have been there to surround him with our love.
Over the last number of years I have spent less and less time at Sanctuary, as my time and energy has increasingly been devoted to The Dale. While this has been a natural and necessary evolution, I am sad that I wasn’t able to spent more time with James over recent years. However, I count James as one of my most important teachers and dearest Sanctuary friends, and I miss him.
James taught me about the importance of simply spending time, even/especially when the original goal of that time is not met. During the summer of 2011 I was an intern at Sanctuary. One evening Rachel (a Sanctuary staffer) and I were on outreach, and we ended up taking James to the emergency room upon his request (for semi-urgent attention). We waited with him for…a long time. Maybe 5 or 6 hours. At various points we needed to convince him to stay, but we also shared some laughs. He never ended up seeing anyone, and eventually took off. But spending those hours together in emerg cemented our friendship. James taught me that in these contexts “wasting time” isn’t actually a waste of time.
James also taught me about genuine appreciation of piano concertos. I knew that he loved classical music, and so when a friend of mine gave me two last-minute tickets to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra a few years ago, I took James. Seeing him soak in the music, and tell me his favourite parts afterwards, was such a gift. Now piano concertos are my favourite bits of classical music too.
James taught me/us about love and lament. He loved his partner Stacy with a deep love, despite all sorts of challenges in their relationship. When she died, he actively and loudly lamented during Sanctuary services. He also loved his street brothers and sisters deeply, and they knew it. When Iggy died, in particular, he again grieved and lamented loudly. James taught me that to love deeply is to feel loss deeply.
James, thank you for accepting me as a friend and sister. I love you, and miss you.