Sunday, July 20, 2014

Befriending the Dead

I made a new friend this week, an unusual friend. In fact, she’s dead.

Let me explain. I’ll start here. Ron and I looked at houses for months and did not see any we liked well enough to buy. We need to sell our house before we can buy anything anyway. Tricky business. Meanwhile, the housing market changes rapidly and situations raise possibilities. Our house is on the market and quite a few people have come to see it. We are presently in discussion with a buyer who is seriously interested, so maybe something will shake out. This past week we saw a house that we liked well enough to imagine ourselves living in it. The situation is such that we can reasonably make an offer on it contingent on the sale of our house.

Let’s call the house we are interested in the J-House. The woman who owned the J-House for the past 15 years died suddenly at the age of 70 several months back. Her son inherited it and he doesn’t live around here. So he put it on the market. No one is living in it. No one has made an offer on it in over two months. It’s a bit of a secret gem for reasons too complicated to explain here. The son has been slowly emptying out his mother’s things. I’m sure his mother would have cleared it out and made things easier for him to tie up had she had time before she passed.

The house has a rich history. It’s in one of the oldest neighborhoods in town. I was curious, so I went online and started reading about the neighborhood. In so doing, I stumbled upon the obituary for the woman who died so suddenly who owned the J-House. Looking at her picture, I realize that I know who she was. I saw her around town over the years. I never spoke to her, even though we have many mutual friends. Let me refer to her as Ms. X. Ms. X was quite beautiful in my opinion. Oddly, I am getting to know her and I am beginning to feel as though she is a friend of mine.

Things I have learned about Ms. X from viewing her house are:  she played the piano and enjoyed music; she loved to garden (grew lots of roses); she liked found art; she had a sense of humor; she loved her children fiercely; she believed in community and the importance of building community; she valued books and enjoyed reading and sharing books with others; she was inclined to unplug electronic devices and focus on live relationships; she had a strong aesthetic sense and created beauty in her surroundings; she wanted to live near fruit trees and to eat things she grew in her yard; she liked to sit outside in the evening and enjoy the natural world; she was smart; she was compassionate; she was generous; she was practical. I have learned a lot about her by poking around on her property.

In her obituary I read that Ms. X was raised by leftwing Jewish parents. Ms. X was a political activist and a teacher. She had a college degree from UCLA. She created a neighborhood association and worked to make it thrive. She was active in local policymaking and she worked for the Democratic Party. She loved to dance and she took advantage of most opportunities to party. She had many friends and a strong positive presence in the community. She liked to go hiking in the mountains. She was on the Board of Directors of the local soup kitchen and she had a reputation for helping others less fortunate than herself. She was known as an advocate for individuals with mental disabilities and their families. She left behind shoes too large to fill. Her friends were devastated when she died.

I feel as though I know this woman personally and I mourn her passing. But even more than that, I mourn our missed connection. I am deeply sad that I never got to know this woman while she lived, that we never became friends. I would have loved her, I think. We would have had some good times together and we would have been kindred spirits. Now, as I think about these things, I feel a bit like I have befriended her even though she is no longer among the  living. If we actually buy her house, her imprint on the world will remain a part of me for many years to come. My new, dead friend.

I am reminded that there are is an abundance of extraordinary people in the world and not enough time or space to get to know them or to include them in my life. I am ever more grateful for those I have befriended and spent time with, grateful for the people who populate my sliver of the world, my moment of existence.

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