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Shannon Bardwell: Friends and neighbors


Shannon Bardwell



My college roommate called; we discussed our lives and I thought how far life is from "Ozzie and Harriet." Not that it''s bad, just different. 


She told me about John, our painter friend, who has worked through the ups and downs of an artist''s life to achieve some measure of success. His wife, as we all watched over the years, journeyed through stages of eccentricity and then into mental illness. The kind of person that you think is a bit quirky, until the day you realize that something is really wrong. 


One day she locked John out of the house and forbid him to return. The quiet, kind soul that he is moved onto his 80-year-old mother''s couch; the same house where his daughter with her kids had moved before him. One child was born with severe disabilities. No warning during pregnancy, just one day everything was different, for everybody. 


The odd but wonderful thing is how our human spirits mold and meld around our circumstances into a new life and a new idea of family.  


John, realizing that this might be a permanent arrangement, needed clothing. He went to the nearby consignment store for some new duds. His excitement could not be contained when he discovered there, on the rack, were his own clothes. Seems his wife had consigned them. John gladly bought back his familiar clothes and wrapped himself in them like the arms of an old friend.  


John''s daughter, having traveled her own difficult path, is becoming a wonderful mother and has taken responsibility to manage her father''s business. You just never know where your journey will take you. A carefree, careless prodigal has returned to be the steadfast, steadying force just when John needed it.  


My roommate said she went to see the baby, the one with disabilities, and when the baby heard her voice, he smiled. What a gift, one small smile of a baby. At that moment all seemed right in the world. The painter paints on. 


When people ask how my family is doing I respond with, "We are doing well, and every day I realize just how well we are doing."  


Lately we''ve had a rash of friends and neighbors going to the hospital, two of which I have checked into the hospital myself. That''s what friends and neighbors do. I heard Sam talking with the hospital worker as he set up our friend in the hospital bed. 


"You know last week I was complaining about the dam leaking on my pond. We just had it dug out, and it still leaks. I realized that if that is my only problem, I guess I don''t really have any problems." 


The hospital worker said, "Yeah man, you don''t have any problems," as he fitted the oxygen mask on our friend. 


I leaned over the bed and whispered, "Everything''s gonna be OK, you''ll see, it''s gonna be OK." 


That''s what friends and neighbors do.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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