Coming out of my house one recent morning with my dog, Lucy, I encountered a little girl inspecting my angel luminaries made out of milk cartons. She and her grown-up complimented them, and I told her they were my way of adding a little more light to the block. They said they wanted to come back at night when all of the lights are on, since they had heard the story of how Rodgers Forge had come to be lit up from end to end starting with our block. They asked if I knew the story, and I nodded and smiled. And Lucy and I moved on for our walk.
What I didn’t say was that it all began with one string of lights from a dear friend who was trying to bring me out of a very dark place.
Around Thanksgiving, I saw a photo that my husband posted on Facebook of me that showed just how deeply sad and anxious I had become. I decided to ‘fess up. I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for most of my life, mostly under the label of “having a nervous stomach.” Bouts of post-partum depression and travel anxiety had resulted in more intensive therapy, and the pandemic brought on round three of my battle with the blues.
Keeping a positive outlook for two teenagers and a first-grade teacher husband schooling at home while maintaining my work team’s morale caused daily stabbing headaches. The loss of a dear relative and the young son of a high school friend to cancer, not being able to see the grandparents, and mourning the loss of family holiday traditions and my son’s senior year celebrations kept me on the edge of tears most days. The fear of not meeting expectations at work and losing my job tipped me over the edge into full blown panic attacks.
Not usually a confessional poster — I keep a relatively small circle of Facebook friends — the supportive response to my Facebook post from friends and family was immediate. The most amazing gesture came that evening from our closest neighbor family across the street. While huddling in the basement in front of a movie with my daughter, I got a text asking me to come outside. There, I found one string of lights stretching from their side of the street to mine (along with a tin of homemade cookies). This one string of lights from my sweet friends inspired our neighbors on either side to get into the act. The next night, it took five of us with at least five advanced degrees to get one more set of lights strung through the trees.
While I was laid up in bed unsuccessfully willing my body to accept the latest anti-depression medication, my next-door neighbor was furiously crafting the next segment of lights with a very special message. After not being able to eat for two days due to various medicines, I came outside to find neighbors hanging lights from one end of the block to the other. Dads with drills were up on the rooftops, while moms and kids stopped traffic. Many of the families have grown up together on this block for decades, but others are brand new to us. They were all out hanging lights. I burst into tears, not difficult these days, when I saw the “Love Lives Here” sign made by my neighbor with rope lights and coat hangers.
A month after my original post, Rodgers Forge is filled with lights connecting houses block after block. These lights are a visible sign of the connections between our families. You need to know your neighbor pretty well to be able to climb on the roof, feed extension cords through windows, drill hooks in the brick and guide the lights between the trees. Our kids created the term “neighbor family” to describe our relationship to the neighbors on our block.
Seeing the lights expand across the neighborhood and bring joy to the many families who are coming to the Forge to enjoy them, I hope that my struggle with the darkness brought on by the pandemic has brought light to others facing their own demons. As a person of faith, I believe that we are put on earth to be the hands and feet of God in the world. My milk carton angel luminaries are my small tribute to the angels on earth who spread that light and love on our block and across our neighborhood.
Kim Morton (firstname.lastname@example.org) has lived in Rodgers Forge with her husband, two children and dog for 16 years.