When I pull into a parking space near my apartment, the little green house next door is dark. I no longer see its flowering Christmas Cactus in the shadow of my head lights. The ornate lamps are no longer on with their silk shades casting a yellow glow that seemed to tell me beauty exists, even here in a forgotten neighborhood of bad planning and poor views.
Now there are long shadows across empty carpet. The house is hunched in hollowness: its lavender plants by the front door gone, its deck furniture and sitting bench on the side patio have left only stains behind.
Nancy’s smile as she fiddles with her keys, mail in one hand and grocery bag in the other is a fading ghost. I still see her but I know she no longer looks through my kitchen window from her front porch. She has gone somewhere else yet her perfume lingers.
I keep looking for her. Some hope arises then drops, the elevator in my gut falls five stories.
I miss her. Everyday I miss her.
She raised a son and a daughter in that house, watched her husband die of Alzheimer’s disease, made it back to wanting to live after five years of dying a bit at a time and she collected little things which she lovingly placed on the shelves he hewed from hand and left behind. Japanese tea pots, style magazines, crystals, books-all pretty things.
She lived in the little house with its handsome wood shingles for nearly thirty years and she cared also for the tenants around her, like me. Living here was hard at first. Used to a house and a yard, a cat and a dog and a family gathered around the fireplace, moving into an apartment on my own on the wrong side of “The Boulevard” felt like failure and fatigue.
But she would say hello, ask me how I was and we talked in quick but deep terms. We knew each other. Sometimes we shared our grief and other times resilience. But whatever we shared got us through.
Then one day she came to me and said it was all ending. The owner was selling the place, turning it over to a property manager and she had thirty days to leave her life behind. I watched garage sales, estate sales and I felt like she seemed smaller, more quiet. I also felt her moving away from me. Then she was gone. I came home and the house was empty. The curtains left open with only shadows where a life had been.
But here’s the worst part: she was given just one month. That timing was not flexible. I have watched every day since she left and not one thing has happened there. Like most things, the date was a fiction. It was made up to make things easy for someone, somewhere I will probably never meet. Whoever moves into the little green house will be a good person or not, but they will not be Nancy with three decades of knowing, loving and fixing the pains of these old places.
The property manager will receive my check each month but will not ask how I am and eventually rents will rise and maybe, I too, will one day have thirty days to get out just because.
Everything that makes life bearable is about connection. Everything that makes it not bearable is a loss of that connection, especially when you have no choice.
No matter how many computers you own, no matter how much time you spend locked away alone in an office, car or house, we are connected like the web entwining the roots of trees, like the unspoken yet real language of butterflies.
Nothing can make us not want to be connected because nothing is quite like us breathing the same air as Aristotle and still asking his questions. We simply are connected and the loss of it is always painful.
A loss of a neighbor and friend is a profound loss. It’s felt daily in a hundred small routines. The loss of the leader of our apartment tribe has left us lonely. What was our home is now four rather poorly made walls. Nancy made this a community. A rich guy getting richer means nothing to those of us who send him checks.
This impersonal style of our culture is making us actually crazy. We are on pills, heading for a cliff of obesity and heart disease and our children are losing attention spans and empathy annually because video games don’t teach the value of watching rain and wondering how it really works. That takes time, nurturing and care. Television sets do not love you. They talk to you, they sell you things but they don’t care if you choke to death on the Carl’s Junior Hamburger they convinced you to buy.
This is what’s really behind the divisions and rage in our country–a lack of connection. The rich guy who bought our homes doesn’t care if we miss Nancy, doesn’t care that she had to shift 30 years into 30 days and doesn’t care if we leave. He’ll rent them to someone else with more money. He most likely hopes we’ll leave just like many wish homeless people would go to some kind of somewhere else. But we’ve run out of somewhere else and “others”. We are all here, all in this interconnected system.
It’s not until we recognize the value of Nancy, of talks that run a little too long at the store, of reading the whole story with its anguished author hoping she’s not alone that we will begin to mend. We may talk about our minds as if we are computers, we may describe personal growth as 2.0 but nothing about that is true. We are covered in soft tissue and exude emotion for a reason.
What is true is that I miss Nancy. What is true is that a kind word of one person can change your reality for a day or more. What is also true is that a house sitting empty that once held a family will never be anything but sad.
We do not need a perfect world. We need a world willing to be imperfect together. We do not need more money but more compassion. We do not need to be better at business but better at the business of being human.