We moved into our house the very first day of March. I remember this because we signed the papers on February 29–Leap Year Day. It was a warm day. Warm for Michigan that is. Warm enough to just wear a sweat shirt when unloading the moving van. Warm enough for the moving van to leave a large rut in our unfrozen front yard. Warm enough to go over and introduce myself to our next door neighbors. But I didn’t.
I regret this. Greatly.
I was busy those first two weeks. I was busy in my little world. And my little world extended only to our property lines and no further.
Two weeks passed, and I never met our next door neighbors. I regret this.
I regret this because I never saw Jamie walk.
If I had gone over during those first two weeks, Jamie would have walked to the front door.
I first met our next door neighbor’s daughter. She came around to the fence by our backyard and was very, very, animated and talking on her phone and talking to me and swearing and crying and talking on her phone. I couldn’t understand much, but I understood that there had been an accident, and someone was hurt.
The daughter came back over about 30 minutes later and told me a sad tale. Her mother (Jamie) and her mother’s husband Cliff had been in a car accident and the doctor said that her mother was paralyzed from mid-chest down.
I couldn’t really comprehend this happening, so during the next few days, I remember thinking, “Did I get all that information correct?” Because, it just seemed too sad to be true. Stuff like that happens to people on the news or a friend’s acquaintance, but not to my very, next door neighbor.
Changes had to be made to our neighbor’s house. A wheelchair ramp had to be added. Doorways had to be widened. The front living room became a hospital room–all for Jamie. My neighbour that I hadn’t taken the time to meet.
It took awhile, but Jamie finally came home from the hospital. Spring turned to summer, and the rhythm next door changed from sorrow to a busy life of grandkids visiting, cars being fixed, parties, yelling spouses, slammed car doors, squealing tires, BBQ’s, beer on the back porch, banter, teasing, grandkids catching lightning bugs, car parts, spouses returning, talk, tattoos, laughter, and more. There was a rhythm at our neighbor’s house. Not the same rhythm as at our house, but their own rhythm.
This continued for several years. We got to know Jamie’s kids and their spouses. Jamie’s grandkids played in our backyard. Our kids caught lightning bugs together. Jamie’s grandkids were invited to our kid’s birthday parties. They visited our house for Trick-or-Treating. They threw snowballs at each other.
The rhythms of our respective houses and families were very different, but we lived side-by-side in general harmony. We received gifts of home-grown tomatoes across the fence and passed back zucchini. They watched our house when we were away, and we called them if their Rottweiler escaped. If the pound arrived before Cliff did, he would be fined, so we tried to contact him. We borrowed his ladder; he collected our mail when we were out-of-town.
Jamie was a cheerful person. She was the reigning peacemaker between conflicting parties. She told me that she had just finished a battle with breast cancer–chemo and radiation–right before the accident. She had only been back to work two-week when this accident happened. She could have been extremely bitter, but she just would shake her head and say, “Why?” Without going into details, there was alcohol involved in the accident. She could have hated the driver of her car, but she loved him. She was an example of forgiveness and cheerfulness.
Jamie usually sunned herself on her back deck. Occasionally we would visit over the fence. One day her daughter came over and told me that Jamie’s cancer had returned and spread to all her internal organs. She was only given a few months to live. Now I am a Christian, and I knew that I wanted to make sure Jamie knew the way of salvation in JESUS CHRIST. We visited. I knew her time left was short, so I went over again. As we talked over death and JESUS CHRIST’s gift of salvation and some Bible verses, Jamie said to me that she was ready to go. Her sister had called in the Baptist preacher, and she had understood that she needed her Saviour. I will see Jamie again.
About two days later, I went over again to visit. Jamie’s body had shut down. I was quite pregnant, it was quite hot, and the smells of a dying body, the heat, and the sickeningly sweet lemonade handed me made me nauseous. I knew that I was going to either faint or throw-up or both. BUT Jamie was telling me how she was afraid to die. What is nausea in the face of death? I tried to quote comforting verses and listen, but the room was beginning to swim. “I am SO not good at this,” I thought. I am sure that I was no help or encouragement, but despite her fears, I know that her SAVIOUR gently received her.
“We are confident, [I say], and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” II Corinthians 5:8
I managed to get to a chair on the deck right as my knees buckled. I faint off-and-on, so I know the drill. I am fine as long as I don’t pee my pants. No luck.
The blackness faded as I breathed in some outside air. I felt so Incapable. So Inadequate. So Unhelpful. So Useless. The Hunni was still visiting with Jamie, but I had to head home. I laid down on my bed and cried, not so much for Jamie, but for her family, for my failings. It is not the “end of the world” to fail a friend over something trivial, but when your friend’s world is ending, failing her is huge. And I strongly felt that I had failed Jamie.
We were scheduled to fly out west to visit The Hunni’s family. Jamie was given a month to live and I expected to see her again when we returned, but she died just a day or so after we left. I do not know what the journey to heaven is like, but I do know that the Bible says that,
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Luke 15:7
If there is joy and celebrating in heaven when a sinner repents, I am sure that there is even more joy when that saved sinner comes home. Elisha is described as “a man subject to like passions as we are. . .James 5:17” and his journey to heaven was a fiery chariot ride across the great divide. (II Kings 2:11) Imagine such a ride across the universe and into Eternity! I am sure every transported saved sinner receives a similar transport.
We missed Jamie’s funeral, but more than that, we miss Jamie.
After she left, the rhythm of the house next door changed. Better put, it had no rhythm. Everything stopped. The noise stopped. It wasn’t a good quiet, it was an empty quiet.
Several years have now passed. Cliff and his house have slowly begun to beat again, but it is very different. He is alone and lonely. There isn’t a band playing next door, but a solo sax.
The Word of GOD says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Matthew 22:39