I was twelve when we moved into Albany Park, a Northwest-Chicago neighborhood far from the Latin-American neighborhood I’d grown up in. I begged my parents not to move since I had a tight knit group of friends my age that I did not want to leave behind. We did have a set of friendly neighbors, an elderly retired couple, the Hammerberg’s. However, the prospects of making friends my age in my new neighborhood appeared dim. Eventually, I became a teenager who refused to succumb to the challenges of inner-city life; I continued to excel academically but became a loner in an environment that was sometimes hostile to bookworms such as me. I was set on becoming a doctor. I became friends with the friendly neighbor who would always greet me with a smile, Mr. Hammerberg, It was only after his wife, Stella died that the hello’s stopped being accompanied by a smile. I saw in his eyes a loneliness that matched my own. During our conversations, I learned that Mr. Hammerberg had spent his entire life in the same house, survived the Great Depression, was a Northwestern University graduate and a successful retired chemist. I was a “science buff” and loved the interesting chemistry stories he shared. I loved to bake and Mr. Hammerberg was always one of the first to taste my cookies. He never complained about my baking skills even when I once poured the entire cup of baking soda into a mixing bowl and didn’t figure out my mishap until long after I he’d sampled my cookies. He smiled and said they were good, even though those cookies were as hard as rocks. When I apologized about the cookies he simply responded “it’s alright”. My baking skills developed and so did our friendship. Even as Mr. Hammerberg became afflicted with macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s he would seldom complain and would simply say “it’s alright”. Seeing the way he responded to adversity inspired me. While away at college, I looked forward to receiving his encouraging letters. After I graduated, I returned to Chicago and took a year off to apply to medical schools. I kept myself busy by baking and cooking for him while I anxiously awaited responses. Even when I doubted whether my dream to become a doctor would materialize he’d call me “the doctor”. I did go on to attend medical school. His encouraging words helped me remain strong even when it was easier not to. Towards the end, I was fortunate to be among those who he recognized and shared smiles with. This has been a bittersweet year for me, his predictions were right, I became a doctor. Two weeks after my graduation my friend, Mr. Hammerberg passed away. He was my friend and I miss him. I know he led a good life that inspired many and had to move on. The memory of our friendship will always remain alive and I too will one day respond to the challenge of this loss with the simple but profound, “It’s alright”.
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