My neighbor across the street was a birdwatcher. All around her house, under the eaves, hang all kinds of feeders and little bird houses, and she knew everything there is to know about birds. She was definitely not a people person. Her heart belonged completely and totally to the animals of her world. She lived alone (with cats), but shared that love and enthusiasm with a few like-minded friends, and with visitors to the beautiful nature park down the street where she would often lead the monthly nature walks. She and I shared a love of birds, and I could always ask her to identify a particular bird I didn’t recognize. She would know what it was by the way I described the birdsong.
I didn’t see her often, even though I see right into her house each time I look out the front windows. She and I recognized in each other a tendency toward reclusiveness — a need to withdraw from the world of people and the intensity of human interactions. Home was a haven for both of us. My withdrawals are brief and restorative, a way to recharge. Hers were something else that I didn’t entirely understand, but that was okay. We could go months and months with just a wave as I walked to the mailbox, and that was okay, too. We were always aware of each other, across the street, each living our own lives.
She had been ill this winter, and I helped her out a number of times. Then she disappeared, and after a few weeks I began to get increasingly concerned. Last weekend I was relieved to see that she was home again, so I stopped in to see her only to discover that she was deathly ill, with advanced liver disease. We had a short, but very nice talk. The next day I looked out front and saw the aide car. She passed away this weekend.
She wasn’t a close friend, but she was a friend. When my grandfather passed away when I was 8 years old, I remember my father telling me to think of the happiest moment I had spent with him and then always remember that moment when I think of him. I decided to do the same thing with my neighbor. I will always remember the day she called me on the phone and told me to come over immediately. I was frightened that something was terribly wrong, and went running to her house. I found her on her back deck, her finger pointing to the upper branches of a tree. It was a baby Anna’s Hummingbird, and she talked gently to the little thing as if it were her own child. I watched with her silently for maybe five minutes, and then quietly withdrew to let her have her beautiful moments alone with one of the creatures that made her life so meaningful.