I've had some great neighbors. I've had some not-so-great neighbors, too. The couple that lived due East of us for a few years flat-out sucked. They had a real asshole of a shih-tzu that bit both me and Bean more than once. One of their guests tried to pull in to their drive so drunk one summer evening that they overshot their drive by 5 houses and ran over a tree at the end of the street. One evening a few years ago, the (ahem) gentleman that lived there flicked a cigarette butt and went inside and fell asleep while it caught fire to some uncleared leaves under a row of dead evergreens, engulfed them in a 20-foot-high ball of flame and damn near burned my house down. Granted, we have not always been model neighbors ourselves but we've tried our best. On the other side of that coin, I've got some pretty awesome neighbors. When I moved here, I was still paralyzed with social anxiety. I didn't go out unless absolutely necessary and I certainly didn't feel the need to make friends. Thankfully I did outgrow that, and I am very fortunate that amongst the people I share a neighborhood with, I can count more than a handful of friends. The people that live kitty corner from us have brought us smoked crab legs, and even though their children are younger than mine, they still fall together and form a nice group. I have my friends down the street, husband and wife who have two girls very close in age but a tiny bit younger than my Midge and Bean. Our kids are always at one house or the other. She left me 2 flavors of Gatorade on my front porch when I got food poisoning and I can even let my most inappropriate sense of humor hang out with her with reckless abandon. His mother lives with them, and even though I didn't know her given first name for the first year I knew her, I was smitten with her pretty much right away. There is so much love in that house that it spills over and they are kind enough to let us soak some of it up. That slight woman and I are the most unlikely of friends, and every time she raises her hands to hold my face, smile, leans in to kiss my cheek and tells me, "I love you baby girl," I know it is no coincidence that she somehow ended up living a half a block from me in this small town. Serendipity, people. I gots it.
We lost the neighbor that lives in the house that connects to my duplex sometime last week, maybe even the week before. We just didn't realize it until Saturday. I'm struggling with the whole indignity of the situation. I'm struggling with his loss. I'm struggling how to come up with any real answers for Midge. The last real death we had was when she was a baby and she has all these questions I don't know how to answer. This child feels things more deeply than anyone I know, and she has the gift (curse? I don't know.) of feeling things with and for other people on a level that I just can't. I don't know if it's because she's young and hasn't built up the thick skin that comes with all the shit life throws at you or if she will always be this way. She was most upset about the fact that our friend and neighbor died alone. She felt a deep and authentic regret and guilt over the fact that nobody was there to hold his hand when he was dying. She quivered and said through sad tears that even if she couldn't have helped him, she wishes she could have been with him just so he didn't have to die alone and maybe she could have helped him not be afraid. Pretty deep shit from a 10 year old. Then she started with the questions that I don't have any answers for. "What happens when you die? Will I get to see you again?"
I was raised in the Catholic Church. I will not disparage anyone's faith, beliefs, or religion, but I will say that by choice, I practice no religion. That does not mean that I am fool enough to believe that there isn't some greater power, but I do not use ancient text written by very fallible human beings as my guide. We talked about what other people believe. We've talked about heaven. We've talked about hell. We've talked about reincarnation. We've talked about the very real possibility that this gift of life might be the only shot we get and when we go, that's it. My younger kids still think I have the answers for everything, and I felt the twinge of inferiority when I told her that I don't know for sure what happens. I waited for her to press me, but she didn't. She sat back, took in my answer and paused for a moment. Then she asked me what I believe. That I can roll with.
I told her that I love her, her sisters and her dad more than these years they've all been mine can account for. I told her that that leads me to believe that even though there will come a day that she can't hear my voice, or see my face, or feel me wrap my arms around her and bury my face in her hair, that I will still be with her, and her with me, because even though love might be intangible, it is very real. I went on to tell her that some people believe that a person dies twice. The first time they die is when their body ceases to live. The second time they die is when the last person that knows their stories dies. She perked up a bit and said that makes sense, and that it is up to us to make sure that we always tell each other's stories, much like the way my neighbor did. This man was a natural-born storyteller. Then my Midge said something that surprised me. She said it's also important that we do things with our lives that people will remember, things so important that they will remember our stories and tell them. I asked her what she would want people to remember about her and she told me she wants to be so kind that people remember that and it makes them want to be kind to other people.
That's a hell of a legacy if you can manage it.