Monday, September 24, 2012

A Sad Day in the Neighborhood

Hibbler Street. That's the street I grew up on in West Point, Mississippi. I remember a time when everyone on the street knew everybody else. Those were the days when we could go outside and play together without being afraid. Neighborhoods meant something back then. Time moved slower when I was growing up on Hibbler Street. You could actually stand outside and talk in the street without worrying about practice or the million other things that seem to steal our time these days.

Those were also the days when door to door sales were very successful. People on our street loved the World's Finest Chocolate. They also liked calendars, pizza, and candles. The chocolate was the favorite though. For only one dollar you could get the World's Finest Chocolate with a one dollar coupon on the back for McDonald's. So basically the candy was free. The sales pitch worked every time. I never considered why people on Hibbler Street liked chocolate, calendars, candles, and pizza so much, but I am sure glad they did.

Over the years Hibbler Street has changed. Families have moved away for one reason or another. The natural progression of life and death has taken others. This past Sunday, the bell tolled once more. Mr. Norman died. Norman Armstrong was no ordinary neighbor. He was a friend, even when I was a kid. He never seemed to mind my hanging around. As a matter of fact we had several long - and I mean long - conversations standing around the kitchen with Mrs. Lucille when I was in high school. We solved every problem in the West Point School District and could have solved even more. The only bad problem was that no one ever paid attention to our solutions. Their loss, I suppose.

Creativity was one of his strongest traits. Mr. Norman was involved in community events, plays, Arts Council, and more. Every Christmas for the past few years every member of my family got a handmade Christmas card from him. He loved art, and he loved us. Makes for a great combination.

Mr. Norman also catered our wedding rehearsal dinner. Along with my parents, Mr. Norman and others worked to make that evening a very special one indeed. He liked doing things that made people feel special. I never remember him wanting much attention. He just found joy in creating meaningful experiences for people he loved.

Now I would be remiss if I didn't mention again that Mr. Norman had a better half. Her name was Mrs. Lucille. At least that was her name until I reached the 11th grade in high school. That was the year she developed a new identity. Mrs. Lucille transformed into Mrs. Armstrong, my 11th grade English teacher. American literature came alive in her class, so much so that I took enough literature courses in college to have a minor. If she reads this post she might wish that I would keep silent on this next piece of trivia. Mrs. Armstrong also taught me to write. I never have been one who was at a loss for words. Praise God that Mrs. Armstrong taught me the skills of organization and research. Those skills are still part of my toolbox today. As a matter of fact at this very moment I am involved in a pursuit for a Doctor of Ministry degree. To say that I have a few papers to write would be an understatement. I got my start from a teacher who was more than a teacher, right there on Hibbler Street. People say that when you know the rules of grammar, you can break the rules of grammar. Well I definitely learned the rules so let's just say that reason is my reason, too.

The year is 2012. Much has happened since 1968 when my family first moved to Hibbler Street. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in. Over 44 years living in the same house across the street from the same neighbor is not very common anymore. Some would say that type of life must be mundane. Where's the excitement in seeing the same people day after day pulling out of their driveway heading out for coffee, the beauty shop, the library, or the play? I don't have many answers for life, but I do have the answer for that one. The excitement is not in the activity. The excitement is in knowing that you live near someone who knows you and loves you anyway. Knowing that you have a lifetime friend means something. Lifetime friends are rare. Is there any way to get those days back?

Why does life get so busy? Another friend who grew up right next door on Hibbler Street recently had a tragic loss. We played together, went to school together, played opposite each other in the school play Oklahoma, and even went to a prom together. We were childhood friends. We've kept in touch some, mainly about graphic design, t-shirts, and logos. Now she has experienced a tremendous pain in her life, and we have talked a couple of times. Why does it take tragedy to make us do what lifetime friends should do all along?

You know the neighborhood connection must be a strong one when the sadness reaches to the middle of Florida. It is not about me at all, but I do feel the loss. I've cried for Mrs. Lucille and for me too, I suppose. I should be stronger when I call people to express my sympathy. That sounds so much like a preacher. What I mean to say is that I shouldn't cry when I call to encourage my friends after they have lost their husbands. I should be strong, but I'm not. I'm sad. Life keeps getting shorter and smaller and closer. We've only got a little time left.

The Lord tells me that in the little time I have left I should seize every moment to become so much like him that the world changes. I don't live on a Hibbler Street, but if I did I would want the neighborhood kids to think the world was different because I had been in it. Jesus wants our world to be different. I have a new urgency not to waste today because today quickly becomes tomorrow, and tomorrow soon fades into yesterday, creating a cycle that can never be captured, not even for a moment. Time only stands still when we are grieving and wishing it would move on or when that dream has become a nightmare that seems never to end. What if we could live our lives in Christ so that time became our capsule to change the world. Mr. Norman changed his little piece of the world. I pray that God will use me to change my little piece of the world.

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