Today when I went to pick the mail up off the floor from underneath the drop slot, I saw a pouch with paw protectors. I smiled remembering that Lindsay and Kendall told me to expect them as one of our fellow neighbors /dog walkers, was going to leave them for Nessie. Apparently they were too small for her dog. She eyed the rubber booties Nessie wore and thought we might like the canvas rubber soled type better. Before owning our dog I didn’t even know some dogs wore booties. Our small pawed, cold hating dog wears them out of necessity. When I saw the pouch lying with the mail it reminded me of how kind and good hearted the people of my community are. Her random act of kindness reminded me of all I have to be thankful for because of the people in my community. Today, even though its 9 degrees and the wind is blowing, the sky is blue and the sun warms my seat on the couch by the window. It feels like a good day to express gratitude and to give a valentine to the village I love.
From the moment we moved in, Mark and I loved our new community. We felt after several job transfers, we’d found the place we wanted to stay. We chose this community over 16 years ago because we wanted a home and a neighborhood that would be the secure base from which our children would learn and make lasting ties. We liked the notion of living in a village, rich with history, which our town is. It has been ideal for us because it has great public schools, is close to downtown and has the nostalgic neighborhood feel, with kids safely playing outside reminiscent of Mark’s and my childhoods. In every way it felt right when we moved here and continues to do so. We moved here with our two young sons and all we saw was a bright future in a friendly environment. Our new neighbors welcomed us warmly with gifts of food and made themselves available to answer questions about the local school Jordan would attend for first grade.
Jordan walked to school with other kids from the block and when Merrick started school he and Jordan walked together. When it came time for middle school for the boys, the bus stop was less than a block away. Lindsay and Kendall hit the friend jackpot on our street. There were five children within a year of their ages that lived on the same side of the street as us. The kids played from yard- to -yard and house- to- house. There was no need for “play dates.” They made friends at school and on the block and their friends’ parents became the friends of Mark and me.
No community is perfect, but ours has proven to be a good fit. The people here have shown themselves to be kind, creative and trustworthy. Block parties are common during the summer, and every Fourth of July our village has a fireworks display at the local high school. People come with lawn chairs or blankets and together we sit and “ooh” and “aah” at the pyrotechnics. Volunteers come around and gather monetary donations to help defray the cost of the event.
One Fourth of July about 5 years ago we got a personal sense of the spirit of the people who make up our village. During the Webkinz stuffed animal craze (Is it still a craze?) I accidentally dropped Lindsay’s webkinz as we walked back to our car after the fireworks. I didn’t realize until we got home that Zach the beagle wasn’t with us. Lindsay slept with this stuffed animal every night so she was very distraught. I promised her if we didn’t find it in the next few days I’d get her a new one. Until then she found comfort with one of her other stuffed animals. A couple of days later as we drove home from running errands I waited at a stop sign and happened to look up at the brick fence of the home on the corner near the high school. There sat Lindsay’s stuffed animal waiting for its rightful owner. I got out of the car, handed it to Lindsay and after finding his telltale rip she assured me this was her webkinz. I thought then, “This is the only place I know where a kid’s toy would still be here to be claimed.”
When our world was upended On October 12th 2008 with the unimaginable loss of Jordan, our friends and neighbors took action. As we sat numb with grief and in shock, we appreciated that our village is also a place where news spreads quickly and people want to know how to help. It is a place where the then superintendent of the elementary schools, who I know through school board committee work came to my home and said the words few can say at such a devastating time, “I know how you feel.” She sat with me holding my hand telling me the tragic loss of her daughter in a car accident. She did all this on what would have been her daughters 35th birthday. I will always be awed by her compassion and grace.
My family has been enveloped in a quilt of caring, with threads of care that have touched us so profoundly. We experienced firsthand how friends and neighbors gather together and figure out what you need when you’re in the haze of grief and can’t find words. They give without being asked. They pray for you, they hug you; they drop off brownies, books, and flowers on your porch-just in case you’re resting- but all the while wanting you to know that they’re thinking of you.
We have been fed physically and spiritually. In the months after Jordan’s death, meals were dropped off at our home and an account was set up at a local restaurant that provided delivery of meals for 6 months. In the first year, cards arrived almost daily with notes of prayer inside. Cards came from Jordan’s piano teacher, many of his former teachers and the librarian at the high school, and so many from the parents of his friends. All of them expressed their condolences but also shared their special memories of Jordan, which I cherish to this day.
I’ve learned a lot about friendship since Jordan died. Even as my friends experienced their own personal ordeals and worked through grief and losses they found time for my family and me. Friends like Terrie, Lori, Lisa and Michele made a pact with each other to check-in with me just to, “hear my voice,” or “lay eyes on me” if they hadn’t heard from me in more than a few days. And my friends Amy and Jeanne who call me every Saturday morning to ask without judgment or pressure if I’m attending our exercise class. If my answer is “yes” they pick me up and have provided a buffer as I try to gently reenter the world outside of grief.
The neighbors and friends in my village showed the heights of compassion and loyalty on the day of Jordan’s memorial service. The memorial service was the same day as my daughters’ soccer game. The game was rescheduled because it conflicted with the time of the memorial service and so many families were attending the service that there wouldn’t have been enough girls to field either team. At the memorial service we walked in to see a church that seats over 700 people filled to capacity. That day we met the parents of some of Jordan’s friends who were there as proxy for their children. Even though they didn’t know Jordan personally their children told them how special Jordan was and is to them.
My village has taught me so much about grace in action. The lessons have come through the many kindnesses of my friends and neighbors. No one ever expects to experience a devastating loss like the death of a child. On many days when grief brings me to my knees, what sees me through, is the compassion and generosity of my family, neighbors and friends. Today I offer this post as my valentine to my village. Thank you for shouldering some of our burden and finding ways to ease our pain.