When my daughter Pam was 17, she had a group of incandescent friends – Julie, Catherine, Kim, Martha, Polly and others – who lit the spaces of our lives. They went on to college, jobs, marriages and adventures, lost track of each other at times and got back together at high school reunions. They encountered heartaches and obstacles, found success and contentment and joy.

A few weeks ago, Kim’s daughter Ally, who was born within several months of my own beloved first granddaughter, died in an auto wreck. She was 17. Ally was, according to all reports from her grief-stricken friends, one of those incandescent teenagers herself, a pretty, outgoing, church-going, clean-living young woman of limitless promise. It is an unfathomable sorrow. Akin to the ache that envelops the room as those photos of smiling young service men and women roll silently across the NewsHour screen every Friday, with only their names, ages and hometowns suggesting the overwhelming sadness that their loss now creates.

When Pam and Kim and the others were about 17, their friend Mark was killed in a motorcycle accident. The only son of a very dear friend of mine, I remember Mark as filled with a more macho but equally vibrant incandescence; his loss remains, especially for his family and for those contemporary friends, a giant sorrow.

Here, though, is what sorrow does. It unites. It makes humanity understandable, it makes gentleness essential. Why would anyone who knew Ally or Mark ever want to be unkind? How could any of us fail to cherish the people we see and the day we greet?

It does nothing to lessen the loss. But whether we knew them or not, this is a parting gift from Ally and Mark.

Chance encounters

Stuff matters not. Friends matter. I had that old truism abundantly reinforced in the past several weeks… when I’ve been blogging only in my head. That’s my excuse for this stale blogspace, and hopefully it merits putting down in black, white and cyberspace. I made the leap into a new – gasp – quarter century on June 8, with the help of something over 100 friends in the Bay area and warm wishes from absentee friends elsewhere, something worth celebrating indeed. All were invited not to bring Stuff, but to bring, if they chose, contributions in amounts of 75 cents, $7.50, or multiples that seemed interesting to my three favorite causes. We raised a bunch of dollars; the hostess had a ball. Shortly thereafter I hopped a $99-one-way flight from San Francisco to Baltimore, because who can refuse a $99 cross country flight, even if it’s not going exactly where you want to go? I had not bothered to fill in the blanks until almost the moment of departure, but it worked out this way: An old college friend arranged for her housekeeper to fetch me from B.W.I. to her home in McLean, VA; then delivered me the next day to the Corcoran museum where another friend is curator of American Paintings. That afternoon a childhood friend fetched me from the Corcoran, sated with beautiful art, and took me to her home in Alexandria. Two days (and more art, see Ann McDowell at the Torpedo Factory Art Center) later she and I drove 90 miles south to our hometown of Ashland, VA for a reunion of the famous Ashland High classes of ’47, ’48, and ’49. (We are a sturdy bunch of Depression-era-raised farm kids and small-townies.) Another childhood friend that night nursed me through the cold and laryngitis all this had produced. The next day my second-grade boyfriend fetched me from Ashland to the Richmond airport, where the Alamo people kindly offered a car for return to B.W.I. without charging an arm and a leg. Two days later, nourished by visits to more old friends, a fetched myself back to B.W.I., onto Southwest’s pleasant airplane and home. Exhausted, but exhilarated, because friends just do that, and thank heavens for them all.