For a several years of my childhood, we lived in a house on West Third Street. There were five families on our block with kids all about the same age. There was technically a sixth family, but they just had a baby, so they were obviously of no use to us.
From the outside, things looked pretty great in our little corner of the world. We played kickball, picked teams for ghost in the graveyard (I remember nothing about that game except the name), and rode bikes. One summer, the moms on our street held the “Kid Olympics.” We jumped over brooms between laundry baskets as hurdles and competed in “diving” at the one neighbor’s house which had a pool.
The standing rule was to be home by the time the street lights were on. We knew that the light by one house came on roughly 30 seconds before the one by my house came on. When that first light lit up, it was a foot race to get back to our yard before my parents came looking for us. We did NOT want to have to be found by parents. That led to dire consequences.
As good as things looked on the outside, inside our house, things were less than stellar. My parents’ marriage was breaking up. They eventually got divorced. It was a tough time for us. It was the first of many times in my life when what was happening on the inside looked nothing like what I showed the world.
At the time, I thought we were frauds. I just assumed that everyone else’s life was as good on the inside as it looked from street. I thought somehow we were the only ones who couldn’t get our act together. As an adult, I know that everyone had stuff going on behind closed doors…because we are all flawed humans.
We did what people do over time: drift apart. In the past 25 years, we all moved away from West Third Street. The spot in the road where my dad wrote all of our initials in wet cement was properly patched and paved over by the city years ago. I lost touch with most everyone until Facebook came along and let me peak in the windows of their lives again. We have become members of different communities, and West Third Street is but a memory to us.
This week, the mom of one of those families contacted me to let me know that one of the girls who played with us on West Third passed away. When I got the message, I stood staring at my phone for several minutes trying to process what I was being told. It just didn’t seem possible.
She was five years younger than me, the youngest sibling in her family. I cannot say we were ever particularly close. But she is a regular in most of the memories of that time. We exchanged hellos through social media in the past year. She looked beautiful and grown up. Her outsides looked quite good.
It seems her insides were battling pain I knew nothing about. I won’t insult her family by trying to conjure their grief. It is unknowable to me.
If humanity has but one wish, it’s that the youngest will outlive the oldest.
So from here, an outsider with nothing more than a window view, I pray for grace for those who must live on after this loss. I ask for mercy for those who mourn. I beg for peace that passes understanding.
And I offer the understanding of insides and outsides that don’t always match. In some ways, we never left West Third Street.