By Rev. Walt Windley, IV, Chaplain Preceptor, VIA Health Partners
Meet Joyce Carol Vincent, a 38-year-old female born in West London to parents who were from the islands in the Caribbean. A former boyfriend describes her as a lover of classical music and opera, avid tennis player and one who loved being on the go, always doing something. She always wanted to improve her mind, never satisfied with just sitting still. Joyce had a special bond with her mother, noting that she died when Joyce was only 11. She also had four sisters, but Joyce was the only one born in the UK. Joyce worked her way up in her career, holding really good jobs and making excellent money. Friends would often compare her looks to Whitney Houston, stating she got her dark hair from her mother’s Indian roots. She was not one to sit in front of the television and watch mindless programs. Instead, she craved the socialization of friendships and the night life, finding joy in her ability to seamlessly interact meaningfully with people from all backgrounds.
On January 25, 2006, officials from a housing association in North London would break into her flat, having noticed that she was delinquent on her rent. What they found was her lifeless body resting on a couch with the television in the corner still playing BBC1. Written reports detail unopened Christmas presents sitting in a pile, dirty dishes stacked in the sink and copious amounts of mail blocking the doorway. When opening the refrigerator, what was once fresh food carried an expiration date of 2003. Yes, you did not read that incorrectly! Pathology reports would later serve witness that Joyce had died some three years earlier in her flat of what appeared to be natural causes with no foul play or drug use. She had simply slipped off the radar of public notice and quietly disappeared.
If you are anything like me, your mind jumps to a myriad of questions. How can a person simply go missing for three years and no one seems to notice? Didn’t rent have to be paid? What about her power bill? Did neighbors not realize that she was no longer coming and going from her apartment? Filmmaker Carol Morley was intrigued by these questions and set out on a quest to make a documentary detailing just how such a death could occur. Through extensive interviews with past boyfriends, former employers, neighbors and classmates, she arrived at the simple conclusion that we are all very busy people. There were always more bills to be paid, children who needed tending, adventures to be taken. The burden of reaching out was always placed on the “other” person. And when that person stopped attempting to making contact; well, that must mean life caught up with them and friendship/relationship over.
Joyce had bills paid directly from her checking account. The housing authority was so large, and when mixed with a series of clerical errors, led to no one noticing how far behind she had gotten on rent. Her sisters were not living in the same country, and those who once worked with her assumed she had taken another job.
In 2015, The New York Times ran an article about George Bell, a gentleman who died alone in his apartment and was not found until a neighbor noticed a strong stench coming from next door. He was discovered on the floor in his apartment, curled up with his body starting to mummify.
I don’t tell these stories to scare us. And I don’t tell these stories to illicit some sense of pity or draw at a temporary emotional heart string. I tell these stories because I have to ask what it means for us to do life TOGETHER. I believe spirituality is rooted in the very idea of connection. We, as a people, crave connection to something, someone, some idea, some notion that gives meaning to our lives and helps provide perspective. It is far too easy to go through this life jumping from one pocket of people to the next without ever establishing a rootedness or taking a deeper glance at the people who have started to simply blend into the backdrop of our daily lives. Perhaps the pandemic woke us up to the importance of community. But are we allowing that new awareness to linger? Are we guilty of simply tucking it back into the rainy day file that will never again see the light of day?
How are you doing life together?