John Doe #24

The mystery of John Doe #24 outlived him. There were few clues when he was found, wandering the streets of Jacksonville, Illinois in 1945. He  appeared to be a middle teenager, deaf, blind and diabetic. He could not speak and relatives could not be found. Apparently, he had been dropped like many drop a cat or a dog. Since no family could be found, authorities put John in an institution where the mental health system gave him the name John Doe #24. Officials believe he was in his middle 60’s when he died of a stroke at the Sharon Oaks nursing home in Peoria, Illinois.

John care takes at the mental health facility believed that the diabetes caused John to lose his eyesight. On file, John was listed as severely retarded but care givers did not agree. They saw in him an intelligent man, more intelligent than standard test reveal. They remembered John pantomimed foot stomping jazz bar music. He couldn’t hear the music but he could pick up the vibrations. They wondered if John had not grown up in the atmosphere of a jazz bar. They believed that John had stories to tell but there was no way for him to communicate them.

John cherished every gift. Someone gave him an old straw hat and he carried it with him everywhere. The same is true with his backpack which he used to carry his collection of gifts wherever he went. In the backpack was rings of the dime store variety, sun glasses and some silverware. At Christmas parties, they would play music loud enough that John could pick up the vibrations and he would dance to the delight of them all. At his last Christmas, the care givers gave John a harmonica. John passed a few weeks later and at his grave side stood only a few care givers. When asked if they wanted to say a few words, all declined. They all gave the same excuse, “We didn’t really know him that well.”

No one ever confessed dropping John in downtown Jacksonville. No family was ever located. No one knew where or when John was born. About all they knew was that he liked music and that he treasured each gift.

This story reminded me that life is about relationships. A huge part of relationships is being able to communicate. Everyone deserves to be known by someone. How heartbreaking to think that a person could be dropped like a dog; greater still is the tragedy that a person could live 60 years of more on this earth and not be known by anyone. The first thing I did after reading the story of John was bow my head and thank God for my family and friends, wow, what a blessing to be known by so many. Then I realized that Jesus knew John. Jesus knew his real name. Jesus knew his parents.

In John 10 Jesus said, The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When no one else knows, Jesus knows. When no one else cares, Jesus cares. Is there someone in your neighborhood that no one knows? Should you make an effort to get to know them?

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