I just got the sad and somewhat shocking news that my next-door neighbor, Anna, died. Apparently she fell ill about two weeks ago, and died quite suddenly in the ICU a few days ago. Her husband stopped me yesterday on my way back from the grocery store to tell me. I could barely find the words to offer my condolences.
My wife and I only knew her for the fourteen months or so that we’ve lived in Readington, but we instantly became friends. Hard not to, given how friendly she was, and how often she was bringing us homemade Indian food to eat–dosas and curries and whatnot in delicious profusion. She and Alison enjoyed a kinship over the flower gardens they were both tending side by side in the “front yard” that our townhouses share in common. It reminded me a bit of my childhood: my grandmother and Mrs. Horne, the older woman next door, did the same thing–separated in their case by differences of language and culture, but united by a love of gardening. I guess I had a fantasy that I’d re-live a different version of that past indefinitely into the future.
The last time I saw Anna, coincidentally, was in her role as grandmother maybe a week or two ago. I looked out my office window and saw her on the driveway, playing with her grandchildren. I watched awhile, then went back to work, never realizing that that quick glimpse would be my last.
Obviously, the loss involved here is more intense for Anna’s family, including her husband of many decades, than it is for us. But there is grief in any loss at this emotional proximity. I’m just grateful to have gotten to know her (or them, really), and grateful also for the way in which both of them renewed our faith in an ideal of neighborhood and neighborliness that neither of us had experienced in awhile, and that seems as rare as it is precious.
The only tangible memento I have of her is the photo just above of the tomatoes she picked for us last year from her garden. I think it was Epicurus who said, “Sweet is the memory of a dead friend.” As it happens, Anna’s tomatoes were just the right combination of sweet and tart. I’m pretty sure I’ll remember that–and her–the next time I have one.