Friday, August 15, 2008

A Neighbor Nearby

"Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away."
- Proverbs 27:10

The truth of this verse is really being driven home for our family today.

This morning at 5:00 I waved a final goodbye to the very special friends who have been our next-door neighbors for the past fifteen years. They are off on a new adventure... in a new house in a new town, with new jobs for mom and dad, and a new school for their daughter. It was hard for them to leave their home, I'm sure, but they've moved into a new season of life and will be busy settling into it and making it work. It will be fun and exciting.

The pain is for those of us who remain behind. We feel the void. There are lots of tears. In very many ways, my children feel like they're losing a sister.

Three years ago, this sweet little girl came to live with us during the day. She was two years old at the time, I guess. Her mother moved away to attend law school, and was only home on some weekends. Her Chinese grandparents - who had been living with her and were to have been her childcare during the day for this time - had returned to China for some surgery, and had yet to return. Her father worked almost an hour away, and had to leave in the morning before 5:00 a.m. He was having to wake her up at 4 a.m. to take her with him and drop her off at a day care center near his work. She had never been away from home or stayed with anyone but her family before. She was having a very difficult time, and we offered to let her stay with us during the days until her grandparents returned from China. Her father brought her over still asleep, and she woke up with us each morning. She spent the days with us until her father returned in the evenings, sometimes late at night. She shared meals with us, school with us, life with us. We came to love her deeply.

The time of her being with us this full-time was only a few months, but it sealed all our fates... she now had a "second home." She was welcomed into our home and our lives in a way that few ever are who aren't actually family. Her grandparents returned from China, and she was able to be back at her own home during the day. At this point, however, she officially joined with Parkside School in our "kindergarten for pre-schoolers" program, so she was still with us for schooling three days a week for three hours each time. She learned to read. She studied science and history with my daughter EL. We watched her grow and mature academically, and we enjoyed her company socially. We experienced daily contact between our two families - the kind only possible with "a neighbor nearby" - and having her as a regular playmate was something my younger two daughters have enjoyed as a given. She has been like a younger sister to them.

And so, they really miss her. I really miss her. She was a little ray of sunshine in our home each day, and now she is gone.

Yesterday she spent the day with us, as her family finished up the last of the packing and loaded the moving vans. She went to the free summer movie with us. We went out to lunch together at a favorite local restaurant. We took her with us one last time to our Grampa's pool, where we had taught her to swim as part of her Parkside curriculum. When we returned home, she showered and dressed and began to play with my youngest daughter. The older kids and I were rushed to get ready for our evening activities... EV and OG at a dinner/Bible study/movie night, PT at basketball camp, iivo and I hosting Community Group and Music Practice at our home. The night flew by.

Her family came to retrieve her around 9:30 or so. Our meeting was just ending. PT had just returned, and the older girls weren't even home yet. The abrupt parting caught us off-guard a bit, because in our busy activities we'd forgotten to engage the fact that it was coming upon us fast... just like we'd done these past few weeks of her family's packing and preparation. We knew somewhere in the back of our minds that the departure was imminent, but it was always a few weeks off. Now, suddenly, it was here... and amid the movie nights and basketball camps and music practices, we had missed it.

Once our guests left, those of us who were home walked over for a hasty, tearful goodbye. And though her grandparents spent the night in our guest room, she stayed on the air mattress with her parents in her empty house... company for the cat, who was freaking out and threatening to leave.

And so, she is gone. I hadn't thought to take one picture during our last day together. There isn't one picture in existence of her swimming with us at Grampa's pool! I just never bothered to take the camera with us. We forgot the camera the day she went to Busch Gardens with us. I never once grabbed all four of my children and her and captured the friendship with a photo. In fact, when I went looking at the photos we do have, most are from the times when she was with us all day. There are only a handful of pictures from the past couple of years. The most recent one is the one you see on the Parkside webpage, taken almost six months ago. The only other one from this year was taken in February, when she brought us Valentine's Day cookies she and her grandmother had made for us.

So many memories. They are imprinted in our minds, but they will fade. Especially for her. She is only five years old. I know that she will likely not even remember us in a few years. Without photographic promptings to the memories in her brain, or physical contact to keep the relationship alive, we will become hazy. Next time we see her - if we don't get to see her again within the next few months - she will likely give us one of those shy smiles and blank looks that accompany a child who doesn't remember you very well.

And so, I weep a little. Life moves on, in all its bittersweetness. We live, and we love, and often we lose those we love - through varying circumstances - before we were ready to let them go.

Goodbye, our sweet, sweet friend. We miss you!

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