A few weeks ago, while my computer was being infected by what some have told me is the deadliest and most fatal of viruses (as far as computers go), my next-door neighbor's daughter was about to be wheeled into surgery for a life-saving procedure: a liver transplant.
For more than two decades, her mom and I have had ringside seats into each other's lives — sometimes quietly and unobtrusively as we are rolling out garbage cans or gathering mail — other times more direct and face to face, sitting on the front lawn at the end of the day or leaning over the fence for a late-night, gaze-at-the-moon, neighborly heart-to-heart.
As is typical with so many Fresnans, we enjoy a history that transcends our physical address and next-door neighbor status. Her husband's mother was one of my favorite teachers in junior high; his brother was one of my first boyfriends (if you count sixth-grade infatuations). There, you have it. Two degrees of separation.
Over the years, we've stood watch over each other's homes, children and forged the kind of bond one hopes for in a good neighbor. We share alarm codes, holiday desserts, an occasional glass of wine and the cost of a new fence.
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As the day unfolded and while files and folders, columns and chapters disappeared from my desktop, I found myself running the full gamut of emotions: frustration, confusion, anger and sadness. Years of work deleted as if it had never happened.
Innocent files corrupted and reduced to indecipherable codes of mishmash. I'd be lying here if I said I wasn't heartbroken by the loss and on the verge of a full-blown meltdown.
Or pity party.
At about the same time I was grasping the severity of "the virus that swallowed my prose," I received a call that not only put things into perspective — it very humbly and dramatically altered my mood. Hearing my neighbor's voice and heart-wrenching narrative — a mother stranded in limbo, worried sick over the health and well-being of her daughter, holding on, letting go, trusting physicians and yet petrified by all the "what ifs" — gave me cause to rethink my personal crisis. Suddenly, my computer's prognosis hardly mattered.
Our common humanity. In one moment, we can be leveled by bad news and seconds later, revived by an extra bit of information that shades the picture quite differently, offering us new perspective and a true reality check. As a friend of mine often reminds me, "If it doesn't breathe, it doesn't matter."
This morning, those words are permanently etched inside my eardrums as I await more hospital updates, progress notes on the delicate condition of a wonderful young woman, a real human being rather than a mortally wounded hard drive, which, by the way, was quickly replaced. Real life trumping words, sentences, and column inches. Period. End of story. So what if I'm cyberspaced-out for a few days? I'll get over it. And make a full recovery. I'm already better. Maybe even a tad bit liberated.
The process of life is ever unfolding, isn't it? Guiding and pushing us, preparing us for a good day, a bad day, the next installment of our life's story. Thank goodness we only get one little piece of the puzzle at a time.
This morning, I'm homesick for a quiet, uneventful day — the kind that maybe even delivers a little boredom. But then again, I realize that it is these jolts, these humongous intrusions on our lives that keep us alert and awake, making us stronger, testing our resolve and resilience. Even though they crack our hearts wide open, they also remind us about what matters most. Oh, by the way — on my neighbors' home front — so far, so good.
Life is hard. Each of us will face our own battles, challenges, moments of worry and unrest. It's part of the journey. In one way or another, we are all fighting for our lives.
But when we share ourselves with others, keep our priorities straight, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and human — the result is the kind of life support that keeps us breathing and standing through whatever shows up on our doorsteps.
More often than not, it's a friendly neighbor, delivering cobbler or the newspaper that landed on her side of the grass, accompanied by human nourishment — a smile, greeting or warm embrace. But for those times when it's not, it's good to know we can retreat out the back door, lean over the fence and find a friend.