Wednesday, May 8, 2013

On Charles Ramsey,
Ray Vivier....
and the Tattered Remnant

Charles Ramsey is reveling in his well earned brief instant of fame.

Let him, I say. He's a great guy, and did a wonderful thing. I might not share his taste in, um, colorful metaphors, but his head and heart is surely in the right place.

He certainly is one of the Tattered Remnant.

Let me talk about another man much like him.... and let me cite the indispensable Bill Whittle, who inspired this blog.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ray Vivier.


I have been, and remain, a staunchly anti-elitist individual. I find the idea of belonging to a special group the most dangerous philosophical ground you can stand on. But what is remarkable about this Remnant is that the people that compose it seem to be drawn completely at random. It is not a philosophy. It is a frequency. You are on it or you are not. And this is not a million-dollar lottery win, either: it is a call to face unpleasant facts and impending hardship. It is a quiet summons to duty. It often makes one uncomfortable, and, most often, this unfocused, vague desire – this need – to do something useful most often makes one feel very much alone.

What’s remarkable about the Remnant — to me, anyway – is the sheer unpredictability of its composition. Perhaps that homeless drug addict, panhandling under the overpass… perhaps he will be the one to run into a burning building while other decent and good people stand idle, waiting for something to happen.

Waiting for someone to happen.

--Bill Whittle, You Are Not Alone, Part 1, the essay that inspired the Tattered Remnants series.

His name was Ray and he was a homeless wreck.

He had been fighting alcohol for years. He had spent most of the previous months living beneath a bridge in Cleveland, Ohio. When young, he had been a United States Marine, once, but had only lasted a year. He wandered the Left Coast of our country, never quite settling down. He hadn't seen his ex-wife for more than two decades. His children had lost touch with him; no word had been received from him for fifteen years. He was sixty one years old and had nobody--nobody except his fellows in the boarding house. They didn't even know his right name.

And yet, when he died, an unidentified man in a Cleveland boarding house blaze, he died in glory.

The fire, in November 2009, was caused by arson--two men deliberately set fire to the building for undisclosed reasons. At the time of the fire, there were nine in the home.

Three within the building were trapped and burned to death. But the others were awakened and removed from the building by Ray. He repeatedly went back into the building and carried his housemates out.

He saved five.

But he was gravely injured in his efforts. He was taken to a hospital, suffering from severe smoke inhalation and burns from his efforts. He died in agony.

And he lay in the hospital morgue for weeks as nobody knew his true name or his next of kin; it seemed likely that this anonymous hero would be buried in a pauper's grave, unmarked and unremembered.

After some old friends heard word of the fire–-friends who went back to Cleveland from Pennsylvania to identify his body--he was given a name. He was identified as Ray Vivier.

He was inurned on January 23, 2010, in Arlington National Cemetery, his ashes placed in a columbarium overlooking the Potomac, within sight of the Mall, after a funeral attended by more than a hundred of his family, his friends–and those who admired him, his ashes in a gold urn.

When he was laid to rest, he received full military honors.

"I am proud of the man he was becoming," his daughter said. And it could be said that, no matter his struggles, in the end, he succeeded.

There can be no better epitaph for any of us.

I do not have a picture of Ray Vivier.

But God knows him well. May he sing His glory forever.

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Keep it clean for gene.