Since the death of Mitch Snyder I have noticed a need on the part of those around me to discuss his death and, more important, his life. The most perceptive comprehension of his life and its challenges have been best understood by my fellow nurses, and after careful introspection I am beginning to realize why.
We understand his life and death because of our patients. From the moment you enter nursing you realize that your job is different from that of anyone else you know. You will never have normal hours. You will never impress anyone in Washington with your salary or status. There is something inexplicable in the responsibility you feel when you take care of, for example, a construction worker who is paralyzed in a work accident. He looks at you with the most despairing eyes, and you both know he is dependent on you for his world.
I volunteered with the homeless and was touched by Mitch Snyder. Instead of dealing with one patient you are greeted with hundreds of homeless people at the shelter who all have "those eyes," and they all looked at Mitch when he came in the way our patients look at us. He was really a nurse to the homeless, and they were dependent on him not only to give them a place to live but hope for a better life. He felt the pain of the homeless and actually felt responsible for each and every one of them. Like the paralyzed patient, their lives are not over but in serious need of rehabilitation. He perceived his role as one who must nurse them back to health. But for Mitch, there was no change in shift. There were no drinks with supportive friends after work and no vacations. There were only the homeless and their problems to worry about.
After years of working with the sick, I believe people can suffer from the malignancy of mental anguish as terminal as any cancer. Mitch was dying, and now he is at rest. His long shift is over. MARIJANE HYNES Washington
No one more profoundly changed the lives of people on the streets of this city than Mitch Snyder, but few lives were more filled with personal contradictions.
He created an environment in which thousands broke through the isolation of the streets. But Mitch was basically a loner. (His body was not found for one or two days after death.)
He led a community of nonviolence, yet he was never far from violence throughout his own life.
He was narcissisticly drawn to the limelight, but could be viciously self-critical and was deeply insecure.
He spoke of love for all people, but was full of rage and anger much of the time.
He believed in democracy. But for the most part things at the shelter and within the Community for Creative Non-Violence had to go Mitch's way. He devoted his life to helping the homeless feel better about themselves -- lifting their self-esteem. But those who worked with Mitch often felt dissatisfied about themselves -- they could never quite do enough. He found compliments difficult to give.
Mitch believed in people and human values. But the stress of intimacy weighed heavily -- he had especially tormented relationships with women.
He died as he lived: by the skillful use of guilt to gain his ends. But the meaning of those ends can only be understood by the discarded people of the streets to whom Mitch offered new hope and a sense of their own humanity. Tragically, he was never quite able to find these for himself. CAROLYN S. MACKENZIE Washington
The writer conducted a women's therapy group at the CCNV shelter.
I never met Mitch Snyder, but today I weep for him and for the injustice that left his spirit too drained to cope with personal disappointment.
I have not chosen to live an alternative lifestyle, but in 12 years of advocating for housing for low- and moderate-income persons as executive director of the nonprofit Arlington Housing Corporation, I have associated with enough poor people and witnessed enough of our society's response to poverty to know what it was that wore him down.
The truly demoralizing experiences come from daily appealing to, negotiating with, cajoling and confronting the educated, well dressed, seemingly sane, financially comfortable persons who are our neighbors, friends, colleagues and leaders.
I happen to work in a community that has proved itself to be a leader in responding to housing needs of the poor. Yet I know that every policy, program and project in Arlington has come into being through heroic efforts of a few dedicated souls. Each policy must gain the support of elected officials risking rejection of voters. Each program must elude the budget ax wielded on behalf of the taxpayers. Each project must overcome the "Not In My Back Yard" philosophy of neighboring homeowners.
Mitch was a hero. Unnamed others are heroes. We applaud and appreciate their sacrifices and leadership. The real point, however, is that acts of compassion should not require acts of heroism. Compassion sustained should not ultimately lead to burnout, discouragement and disillusionment.
The community to which Mitch appealed for help frequently responds that it is immobilized by the enormity of the problem and the difficulty of choosing among a vast number of worthy causes. I look around me at the choices we do make.
We welcome new businesses to our community to help reduce individual property taxes, but we oppose tax spending to house the low-income wage earners employed in the new businesses. On nonhousing issues, we obsess on our own personal health, but we oppose passage of a national health care plan. We measure our success in our annual raises and bonuses, but we oppose increasing the minimum wage. We believe that we are sane and that the homeless are crazy.
Mitch may have died from a broken heart. I doubt that it was anyone at CCNV who really broke it.
Homeless people do not need heroes. Homeless people need the housing and help that can only come from a change of heart from each of us. LOU ANN FREDERICK Springfield
It was with great sorrow that I heard the news of Mitch Snyder's tragic death. Mitch Snyder was one of a very few individuals who in every sense had the true courage of his convictions.
It is easy for people to sit back and complain about society's ills and how government should be more responsive to the needs of the deprived and the downtrodden. It takes no courage to complain that various politicians are heartless and insensitive to the needs of the homeless. But it does take enormous amounts of love, strength and courage to give of yourself the way Mitch Snyder did to make the lives of those least fortunate in society a little bit better.
Mitch Snyder's methods may have been unorthodox. But he did what he had to do to make things happen. He gave the voiceless a voice, the hopeless some hope and the homeless a home. His life should be an inspiration to each and every one of us. He saw beyond class, race, wealth, knowledge and petty prejudices. He treated every human being as an equal. If each one of us could adopt a fraction of his courage, of his love for his fellow man and of his generosity, we would have a markedly better world for ourselves and our children.
Washington should designate an annual day of commemoration in his honor. Then at the least, we will all be reminded every year of the virtues that this great man embodied. DOUGLAS R. MANN Annapolis