A year ago today, there was an accident on a nearby freeway, and a friend of ours was killed. It was a terrible, terrible thing - he left a wife and two teenage children, a large circle of friends and extended family, all of whom were shocked at his untimely death. But that story isn't mine to tell - it belongs to those closest to him. What I do want to tell you is the way our little community came together to support, help, mourn, and ultimately remember with love this man we lost too soon.
My neighborhood is small. Though we are part of a very large suburban sprawl, this is a very insular place. With only one high school in our community, it's easy to get very involved very quickly, sometimes to a level that can be intrusive or overwhelming. No matter where you go, if you've lived here a while, you'll run into someone you know - the local fitness center is practically a social club, and grocery shopping can take twice as long as you plan if you run into a few acquaintances. The high school football games are packed every week with parents, alumni, and students. This is what drew us here 20 years ago, and this is what sometimes makes me want to flee - though I can't really imagine ever leaving here. This is home.
While thinking about this day a year ago, I see so clearly a parallel to the tragic events of 9/11, the anniversary of which we are all thinking about this week. I remember the strong sense of patriotism and compassion that came to define our country for a time because of the destroyed towers, and how everyone was a little kinder and a lot more emotional for a long while. The same sort of thing happened here in my community. This loss, so shocking and unforeseen, had a very similar effect on all of us who know this family, and also many who didn't, but were touched just the same.
When the accident happened, it was as if every person who ever knew this man or his family was compelled to do something...anything. From bringing home cooked meals to buying dog food, his family was taken care of and comforted by the closest of friends and distant acquaintances. I watched it happen and participated in it all with such a sense of gratitude and amazement - all petty differences fell away, and various groups mixed and mingled each evening at the family's home, offering comfort to each other, to the family, and probably to themselves most of all. Because what struck us all was, of course, that it could have happened to any of us. Truth is, it's just luck and good timing that it hasn't happened to any of us before or since then.
The most touching thing for me was seeing the children's friends gathering around each of them, as if to form a human wall against the pain they were feeling. They had all grown up together...most had known each other since kindergarten. The level of commitment and caring these teenagers showed was beyond anything any of us could have expected, and it was a beautiful thing to witness and, by being around them, be a part of, too.
There have been many times over the years when I've wondered if we made the right decision about where to raise our family - sometimes, it seemed as if this little place presented too narrow a view of the world, and other times, when my kids were struggling, it offered little in the way of options as far as friends were concerned - but a year ago today, and for some time after, I knew without a doubt that this community, the people and the sense of closeness and familiarity, were a gift we were fortunate to have been given. We miss this friend, especially today, but he will always be part of this place, just as those who died on 9/11 remain part of our country's collective memory, whether we knew them or not.