In Potter's Field: A Moment With Bill Reflection
From Richard Provencher
“In Potter's Field
No name do I leave upon this
cross fashioned by a
man whose sole purpose
to lay at rest souls such as mine
without gain or notoriety among
the poor whether produce or
building of stone nor bank accounts
to claim as my own.”
More on Hart Island
To Hart Island We Go
Hart Island is a 101 acre potter’s field in New York City and is the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. Burials have been held there since the Civil War, and it was sold to New York City in 1969. Today there are over 800,000 dead buried there and about 2,000 new burials happen each year. The dead are buried in trenches. Babies are buried in coffins and stacked five high and twenty across. Adults are also buried in coffins and stacked three high and two across.
There are no individual markers to identify those buried at Hart Island, and burial ceremonies have not been held there since the 1950’s. The dead are buried by inmates from Riker’s Island Prison, and every 25-50 years, burial trenches are re-used, allowing for sufficient decomposition of the remains of previous burials.
The permanent residents of Hart Island are the homeless, the indigent and those who could not afford a proper burial or who were unclaimed by relatives when they died. Approximately 50% of the burials are children under five years of age.
Hart Island is one of thousands of potter’s fields around the world.
My one and only poem
The Homeless, the Indigent and the Unclaimed
I was raised by loving parents and surrounded by a loving family and friends. I have never been unloved since I was adopted at the age of nine months. Even during my darkest times I knew there was love waiting for me if I could just learn to accept it. If I were to die tomorrow people would be aware…people would mourn…people would mark my passage in their memory files and occasionally call upon them with fond remembrances. It is that way for most of us, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
In 2005 it was estimated that there were over 100 million homeless people in the world. Who will mourn them when they die? Which potter’s field will they call their own when they take their last breath?
In 2008 it was estimated that 2.8 million people were the victims of human trafficking in the world. Men, women, children, sold into slavery, often times for sexual exploitation; when they die, who will mourn? Who will even know of their deaths? Which potter’s field will they call their own when they take their last breath?
Today over 400 million abandoned children live on their own around the world. They struggle to survive and many, sadly, do not. Who will know when they perish? Which potter’s field will they call their own when they take their last breath?
It is estimated that over 700 million human beings of the current 7 billion will die unknown. About one of every fourteen people will die unloved and invisible. If you are reading this from an industrialized nation like the United States, you are probably saying “yes, how sad, but thankfully this happens in Third World Nations and does not affect me.”
You pass by them daily whether you live in Calcutta or Detroit. Whether you are a resident of Stillwater, Oklahoma or Bangkok, you see them and yet don’t see them.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The Statue of Liberty!
Yes, give us your tired, your poor, the homeless….but…..we have our own, too, and we don’t know who they are, and we can’t deal with our own, and what the hell are we going to do with more, I mean we only have so much room at Hart Island and we can’t bury them any deeper but wait, maybe we could bury them at sea, would that be alright, just dump them off of a barge and let the crabs and flounders feed and be joyous for another problem is solved.
The Nature of the Beast and the Beast Is Us
Over 12 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in the United States. Millions more are abandoned in rural areas, unwanted, uncared for and forgotten as soon as they are dumped from a vehicle.
The average American discards 4.43 pounds of garbage daily. Unwanted and forgotten, tossed to and fro when our needs are met.
We are a convenience society, and if something fails to be convenient we dump it, whether that something be a used television set or a human being.
The faces have names
We can make a difference
- Human Rights: A Social Contract
A contract which, if signed, promises that the signee will be more human, and return to qualities of compassion, empathy, and love for all.
National Alliance to End Homelessness
It Is Incomprehensible to Me
We are born. We are loved. We die. We are remembered. That’s the natural order of life, is it not? How can it be otherwise? How is it possible to be born and just discarded? A living, breathing compilation of hopes, dreams and possibilities, tossed to the curb, stepped over, ignored and sentenced to a life of abandonment; how is that possible?
The answers to that question are, of course, many. 800,000 nameless souls reside at Hart Island and each one had a different story. Lost jobs, victims of crime, disease, divorce and bankruptcy; mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism and neglect; all different and yet all the same statistic in a fifteen-foot deep trench stacked five high like an underground cord of wood.
What does it say about our society? What does it say about our government? And yes, what does it say about us?
As I mentioned earlier, I was adopted at nine months. Prior to my adoption I was shuttled from one foster home to the next, nine total, and during those first nine months I was never nurtured. I was “suffering” from “Failure To Thrive Syndrome.” According to Families.com:
“Failure to thrive is exactly what it sounds like: your infant, for whatever reason is not gaining enough weight and ‘thriving‘. Perhaps your baby is missing developmental markers as well, such as rolling over, smiling, and/or cooing. Failure to thrive can have so many causes that it may take awhile to diagnose exactly why your infant may not be gaining weight.”
In my case, I had not gained normal weight, I was listless and I was still blind. Within two weeks after being adopted, I gained my sight and began gaining weight. I was loved and in a safe environment and that made all the difference in the world in order for me to thrive as a human being.
But what if I had not been adopted? Would I have thrived? Would I have ended my days in a potter’s field?
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I have none. I do not know how to solve the homeless problems in the world, nor do I know how to end abandonment of children or drug abuse or the hundreds of other causes that lead to a potter’s field.
I only know that I cannot act like it does not exist. I believe with every fiber of my being that I can make a difference in this world one person at a time. To believe otherwise is to throw up my hands and admit defeat, to say that life has beaten us all, for what happened to those 800,000 at Hart Island could just as easily happen to you, or me, or one of our relatives or loved ones.
I was born for a higher purpose than to roll over and concede defeat, and I was born for a higher purpose than to turn my head when I see a wrong and ignore it.
And so were you!
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”