At my second birthday party, Melissa wore a dress and a party hat and carried a red square purse. There is a picture of her standing amid the hubbub, her sweet face and ponytails very familiar to me.

When my parents built our house in 1972, I was one and a half years old and our street ended four houses down from us, at a dead-end. Across from our house was a dirt road. The subdivision extended two-thirds of the way into the square mile it would become. It was quiet and peaceful and full of young families.

Behind our house were the open fields of the commons area, where we would eventually ride bikes and throw balls and tell stories under the cover of huge weeping willow trees. We would weave our way through paved paths to parks where we could climb and play. My childhood was an open door on freedom and discovery, and the kids next-door were a big part of that.

Who knew when my parents bought that house that we would become lifelong friends with the family next-door? It’s a coincidence of fate. Not every neighbor becomes a friend, and not every neighborhood friend remains in your life once they move away. But the Castlemans did.

What a lovely gift! At 43, I still count Melissa as one of the dearest people I know, her family as my family. So today, when we will bury her father, I feel like a piece of my life has disappeared.

I have come to learn that just because someone is family does not mean you fit together. And I’ve learned that it is possible for the souls of two friends to connect deep inside, as if we were meant to guide each other through life.

People come into your life and go out. There are times when certain friends are more prominent in your lives and sort of just there in the background at other times. Still. The foundation of knowing someone your entire life is strong and deep and something you cannot replicate when meeting someone by chance later in life.

It’s all by chance, you know. The luck and good fortune of building a house beside a family you will come to love. I’ve lived beside many people over the years. Some have been connections of the heart and some never were.

Today, I feel incredibly lucky. I have known some incredible people, who let me into their inner circle and let me see their good nature, their brilliance, their beauty. Knowing them, connecting back to their familiar voices, the lilt of their words, their faces that show the recognition of shared memories, this is an anchor in the sea of life. And I know I am better for it.

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