LAST WORDS FROM A TEENAGER
His body was found slumped in a back street at Burwood (Sydney, Australia), his 16 year old life snuffed out by the potent fumes of a container of lighter fluid. His name was Shawn and he died of a suspected overdose - a lonely, desperate street kid.
In the office of a Marrickville refuge, where Shawn spent the last night of his life, lies a moving reminder of a life cut tragically short. Months before his death, he sat down and wrote his life story. It fills only four short pages, but it provides a rare insight into the mind of a troubled child who desperately sought comfort but could find it nowhere.
It begins: "When I was two my mum and dad went to a hotel. They hired a babysitter to look after me. The babysitter went to get beer and left the front door open. He shouted my name and I didn't come to him. I was running around on the road. The police picked me up and took me to a foster placement."
Shawn came from a dysfunctional family and was made a State Ward - beginning the round of foster homes. He had fond memories of his friends at Merrylands Primary School and the day he was reintroduced to his father who gave him a big hug and a soccer ball. Shawn saw him occasionally and was later reunited with a second "stranger" - his mum.
"I started living with Dad and every birthday I had a party, except when I was 13 and 14 years old because Dad didn't have much money. When I was 12 or 13 my Mum came to my Dad's for Christmas - she stayed there for about a week. Then one day I came home from school and Dad told me that Mum had left. I asked Dad where she was. He didn't know. I ran around the neighbourhood at Strathfield looking for her. I could not find her so I gave up, crying my eyes out. I went home waiting for a phone call from her to tell me where she was or to say sorry for leaving so suddenly. After this I kept having arguments with my Dad and kept running away from him.” Shawn's life on the streets began. He moved from refuge to refuge in search of friends and acceptance.
The Manager of the Marrickville Vinnes for Youth Hostel, said Shawn stayed there on and off for two years. He was a quiet kid who felt alienated by other teenagers and was always tyring desperately to please. If someone said "Shawn grab me a packet of cigarettes", off he'd go running up the street, the Manager said.
"He had a history of glue sniffing and would drink some alcohol, but he didn't commit lots of crime. There was some paedophile involvement; he's the type of kid they grab hold of - giving him money and favours".
Shawn's mother died three years ago while he was staying at a refuge and he tried to commit suicide before "someone talked him out of it". Shawn wrote: "I started crying then. The bad thing was I could not go to her funeral because it was already over when I got told. That's it. And I am still having memories of her and I miss her so much. We went to her resting place on Mother's Day but couldn't find it."
The last line of his diary read: "Please understand about this story. Thank you for being a friend."
WHERE DO WE SEE THE FACE OF CHRIST TODAY?
Where do we see the face of Christ today? Is it to be found in artistic reproductions? No. He told us where we can see his face. If only we have the courage to look at those who are hungry, those who are naked, those who are lonely, imprisoned; the least, the last ... the street kids ... there we see Jesus himself. A gesture of love to realise the pain of these brothers and sisters restores in us our likeness to Jesus.
Lord, help us to recognise you in the hidden corners of the world. In the forgotten ones, those who mean so little to the world, whose presence is never greeted with a smile. We ask that we might reflect your love for all people in everything that we do.
May the Passion of Jesus be always in our hearts