I like to think of a neighborhood as a community within a community.
We share our neighbors' joys, their triumphs, their concerns. We share lawnmowers and garden hoses, shovels and rakes. We share recipes and we share burdens. And when the time comes, we share grief.
Our neighborhood took an unlikely, unfair and unbelievable hit in the past week.
In just a matter of days, two houses, sitting side by side, just across the street from our own, found themselves in mourning amidst the incongruous aura of Christmas lights and candles.
Last Thursday, my neighbor Mary Lou Bell simply could no longer wage her extended battle with cancer. She was just 64. When I learned she had passed away at the Hinkle Hospice House a wave of sadness swept over me. I immediately thought of several conversations we had. She was a teacher, and we talked about education. She was a Renaissance woman, and we talked about art and language. She was a woman of her time and other times, so we talked about history.
Sometimes we would talk on the sidewalk in front of her house. Sometimes we'd talk on her porch, where every once in while a small knot of her friends would appear with a bottle of wine and a bundle of laughter.
My God, how she liked to laugh. I can still hear her even now.
She sometimes brought a different perspective into the conversation and maybe that's what made her unique, at least, to my mind. But she was almost always effervescent and involved. Bubbly. She was an essential personality in the neighborhood.
So we went to Mary Lou's visitation on Sunday afternoon, literally just hours after we learned that Chad Kirkendall could no longer maintain his incredible battle with a cancer so rare it defies odds. Chad was only 40, and that doesn't make any sense at all. Sadly, he leaves behind a young family, including 3-year-old twin daughters.
Chad's sister, Kristi Thornhill, lives directly across the street from us. She's Mary Lou's next-door neighbor.
There's not much for me to document here about Chad, because it seems the entire town knew him and of his plight. That's because Facebook, and perhaps other social media of which I'm not aware, kept us informed at nearly every turn. I'm not kidding: the Prayers for Chad Kirkendall page gathered more than 5,100 "likes," which represents somewhere between a quarter to a third of the population of Lexington.
Which to me means that the community became the neighborhood. Imagine that.
Rev. Ray Howell, in his blog, wrote a perfectly wonderful tribute to Chad (see here).
The one thing that stayed with you through all of this, it seems, was Chad's incandescent smile, which was both a reflection of his courage as well as his determination — or was it defiance? — in the face of this god-awful adversity. You can see it in picture after picture on Facebook and you wonder from where it came.
But then we really do know, don't we?
So the neighborhood steps in a little closer to wrap its warmth, its protection, its love around these families, with whom we gladly share.