Many surprises awaited me on my return to my old apartment neighborhood after living in my house for a year. I was taken aback at how much tragedy had struck so many of my old neighbors. The stories of the following three women left me pondering the inherent truisms of the world we live in.
First is the story of a former neighbor, who was similar to me in terms of age — mid 30s. She underwent critical surgery on her liver, and while the post-surgery outlook did not fare well, it was far from conclusive. Sadly, for reasons unknown, she just gave up hope. Despite the doctor’s orders, she refused to quit chain-smoking. She rarely ever left her bed to exercise or talk with anyone. Her conditioned worsened.
Any youthful-hopeful ambition was somehow extinguished. People asked her to change her lifestyle, if not for herself but for her own 4 year-old son. She didn’t change. The neighbors raised $300 to buy them some gift certificates to help them financially. One boy gave his entire jar of coins. Outside efforts to encourage her seemed to fail.
She died a few months later. I heard there were some rifts with the two sides of the family. In a small way the rift was evident during the funeral. How tragic that even at one’s death, people cannot put their differences aside. If we do not honor the dead we neither honor the living. I can not help but think, this is a woman that the world left behind.
For her funeral, they did a musical picture slideshow of her life. As they went through every stage of her life, 70s, 80s, 90s I was dumbstruck. The trends she went through were the same ones I did at the exact same age. The posters on her wall were the same as me and my friends. That was the first time I witnessed a funeral where it could have been me! A sudden wince came over me as I realized that I, myself, am not ready to die. I am not ready to live either, at least not live the life I am called to, as opposed to the one I want to live.
Secondly, there was a 39 year old girl who lived with her mother two doors down from me. She once was involved in a horrible alcohol-related auto accident and lost her license. After many years she got her license back. I was there to see her happy as a clam and rejoicing. Soon after she crashed her car again and lost her license all over again.
When she lost her job she plunged into drinking. Several times a week a cab would pull up next to my unit and the cabby would walk this staggering girl to her door. On one occasion she just collapsed on her font door and laid there all night.
Something happened a few days after her 40th birthday”¦she died. There was no public funeral. She came and left this earth with hardly any friends at all. She was a beautiful woman. I called upon her expertise many times. She was young enough to start a whole new life if she wanted. Now she is dead and only a handful of souls in this world knew about it. Watching her last few years was like watching a bully kid stomp on someone’s flowers till there was nothing left. Again, it’s another case of a woman that the world left behind.
Finally, there is the story of one brave mom of two teen foster girls. After many struggles, she had to give them up because she couldn’t handle them anymore. Since then, one of the girls ran away from her new foster home, and has not been heard of since. The other teen moved into a home where seven girls share one bedroom and one bathroom — all undoubtedly somehow hoping for a better life.
As I watching these two teen girls enter life their adult life under trouble times, I can’t help but think that this trouble will likely continue with them — a story that will remain unbroken for their entire lifetime. Waiting in time for them to become two more women that the world leaves behind.
These women fell through the cracks of life because our invisible bonds of friendship, and neighborly networks, are never as strong as they could be. Something in these girls’ life told them they were of no value. From that point on they became (almost) unreachable to others.
After my visit to my old neighborhood, I feel sad as I ruminate what one thing might have made a difference in these lives. Was there was something that could have been done? How does one speak life into someone who has emptied themselves of all value and hope? How do we stop the next ones from being left behind?