In the thirty plus years we have lived in our home we have always had a fox neighbor in the woods to the side of our house. There was no warmth in our relationship. It was more one where we tolerated her existence and she tolerated us. We also have had a precious wild bunny population. They were most evident when we would return home after dark and the car headlights would pick them up frolicking on our lawn. And when the bunny population was missing we knew the fox had been busy satisfying her own hunger needs.
As I get older I frequently find my thoughts focusing on the value of relationships – family relationships, friend relationships, animal relationships. We have a ceramic plate in our kitchen that we purchased when our five children were very young. It has these words of wisdom embedded in an etching of a tree with roots:” There are two lasting gifts we can give our children. One is roots and the other is wings.” The roots part for us was pretty easy and straightforward when Jerry and I were blessed with the large family we wanted. The wings are definitely more challenging. Since our children are so close in age – five and a half years apart – once we entered into the “wings” stage it was a pretty time consuming part of our lives. Now as grandparents we just relax and enjoy the grandchildren and let their parents deal with the “wings”issues.
My great Aunt Mary lived into her late 90’s. Her home was in New York City, fairly close to Cornell’s nursing school. She herself graduated from Nursing School in the 1890’s. She loved being a nurse and loved talking about the changes in medicine between the 1890’s and 1956 – 1959, my years at Cornell. We had a regular routine – she would invite me for dinner and she would talk non-stop for the first fifteen minutes and then she would say,”it’s your turn “. She wanted to know all the details of my nursing student life – how things had changed in the last sixty years since she was an active nursing practitioner. I can now so easily relate to Aunt Mary’s desire to know the latest. Every time we are with grandson Gus I like to hear his nursing school experiences. And I find it very impressive that weeks before he even graduated from nursing school he was offered a job in one of the top hospitals in Virginia.
When Jerry and I moved into our present home in 1990 we were about the same age or just a little bit older than the twelve couples who eventually came to live on our street. Now we are definitely the oldest. In fact I believe we may be one of the oldest couples in the whole community. When we first moved in, there was a contagious friendliness that I don’t think is unusual in brand new communities. We may have been the ninth family in this brand new community that now has many hundreds of homes. The special friendliness that is the mark of a brand new neighborhood started to fade with time as job transfers and downsizing got more prevalent. We occasionally give some thought to our own downsizing but the thoughts never go anywhere. We love being able to host family and friend gatherings and there is plenty of room for those who live out of town to stay with us.
This is the third house we have lived in. We were apartment dwellers until the birth of our first child, son Jerry. When we were pregnant with our next child, our daughter Maura , we started to give some serious thought to buying our first home.. We finally found the ideal rambler in Kensington, Maryland. When we moved in we were the youngest family in our neighborhood. Maura, our sons Joe and Jim and our daughter Meg were born there. It was a sweet little house but definitely tight quarters for a family with five children. When Meg was about eighteen months we moved to a new home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. There was plenty of room for our family of seven. Again we were younger than most of our neighbors but we soon developed a circle of friends and there were lots of neighborhood children for our children to play with. And as our children approached school age we liked what we heard about the grade school. Reports on the junior high school and the high school were not so favorable but that was a long way off.
In the late 1960’s my father retired from teaching and my parents gradually closed down their law practice. With my priestly brother teaching at a Jesuit high school in Washington, DC, and my brother Pete and his wife Louise and their daughters living in Virginia my parents decided to move to the DC area and buy a home in our community. Jerry and I had developed such a nice circle of friends, as much as I wanted my folks near by I was concerned that they would not find many contemporaries in our neighborhood or in the surrounding area. I decided to start a senior citizen club and enlisted some friends to help me. I approached a local church with the idea and they were very supportive. As was the county office which focuses on the needs of senior citizens. The church offered free meeting space and the club got off to a great start, serving the needs of the older local population both in and out of our community. We called the group SLOGGS – slightly older guys and gals. Once the club was well established I withdrew from active involvement because my parents were not interested in joining SLOGGS. They wanted to be involved with their children and grandchildren and with old friends whom they were sure would come to visit.
Unfortunately my parents were together in their new home for less than two years when my father first had surgery for cataracts and followed that with a fatal heart attack . I was very touched with the way friends and neighbors turned out to support my mother. Giving of yourself to support another when they are going through a difficult time is such an incredible gift.
This pandemic time has been tough in so many ways but it has also had its special gifts. I am so touched when Jerry and I take our daily walks and are greeted by smiles and waves from those we don’t know. And it has made me more appreciative of the animal life roaming our neighborhood. Now I am still not psyched when the deer and the bunny rabbits nibble on our plants but I am more appreciative of their specialness. Yesterday I spotted a baby deer standing on the hill in our backyard gazing about with such cuteness and such intenseness that I was completely smitten. And when the cicadas finally ended their seventeen year appearance I was grateful for the return of the pre cicada bird population with its color and variety. I like to think i have always appreciated nature but now it is even more so.
Today is the first time since the pandemic began that with restrictions lifted we attended in person church. In this pandemic time our church has been very creative in ministering to the spiritual needs of its parishioners. They continued to hold services following the guidelines for masking and social distancing. And they provided streamed services for those who were not comfortable with attending in person services and for those over seventy who were considered to be in the more at risk population. Our church is a very warm and welcoming community. And today it seemed even more so. It was so good to be back. An extra special treat was seeing and visiting with some dear old friends.
Close friends are a special treasure. On June 29th we lost a dear friend who had been sick for a long time. Our friendship with Al and his wife Moira who died about five years ago was a gift of forty seven years that we valued deeply. Our relationship with Moira and Al makes me think of the Irish proverb: A good friend is like a four leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have.
Early in the pandemic we lost Les – another friendship treasure. A college friend of Jerry’s who was the best man at our wedding and the godfather of our firstborn. It is easy to focus on life’s losses but we must not forget life’s blessings – the joys that have come from various relationships.
I am comforted by the words of Leo Tolstoy: the more you transform your life from the material to the spiritual domain, the less you become afraid of death. A person who lives a truly spiritual life has no fear of death.