I don’t think I realized it at the time, but she was one of my very best friends.
She wasn’t anything like me. We grew up in two very different worlds. She was ten years older than me, an African-American. She’d lived in Raleigh her entire life. Her mode of transportation was a city bus. She rented an apartment on the other side of town from us.
Lillian was our nanny for eleven years. Every weekday, fifty-one weeks a year, I’d pick her up at the bus stop near the Harris Teeter. In winter, she’d wear her heavy, brown, wool jacket. She always carried a huge purse.
In the afternoon, I’d drive her back to that corner so she could wait for the vehicle that would get her back home. Sometimes, if the weather was bad I’d drive her to north Raleigh.
We talked about it all. There wasn’t a subject that was off limits. I knew about her family, her divorce. She’d spent some time in Fayetteville, my hometown. She loved her family, was so proud of her niece and nephew.
We talked about my marriage. She encouraged me to be a better father and shared with me the things I’d missed when I was at work.
I can’t tell you how often we laughed about the nutty things she’d see parents do through the years in her profession of childcare. We even talked about our faith.
We never spent time together outside of her work hours. She didn’t attend my kids’ school functions or recitals. We didn’t go to church together or go out to dinner. But there was a mutual respect and admiration.
She suffered from a stroke six years ago. Although I visited on occasion, communication was difficult. We never had the chance to disucss Lisa’s death or her illness.
When she died a few weeks ago, I was relieved. She had been so sick for so long. I knew she would be better off in heaven.
What I didn’t expect was how I’d react as I saw her brother walk down the aisle behind her casket. The memories of our time together. The conversations. The laughter. It tore me up.
It’s interesting how certain folks cross our paths. I find it odd how two so seemingly different could forge such a connection. But maybe we just weren’t so different after all.
Perhaps the odd thing is that we don’t all have more connections with folks who don’t look and act just like we do. It sure does make life richer.