Who are they?

I would’ve been almost four when she was born.

Maybe we played on the same playgrounds when we were little.

Maybe we’d been at Disneyland at the same time when we were growing up.

Perhaps we’d gone to the beach and splashed in the same surf back in the 80s.

Maybe when I was in my Brownie troop, she spotted us and wanted to be a Brownie — then someday a Girl Scout.

Maybe she was at Cal State Fullerton during one of my many piano competitions; maybe she was someone I was competing against.

If she had any siblings, maybe my brother knew them.

Maybe I knew them.

Maybe we’d passed each other in the same neighborhood when trick-or-treating on Halloween.

I thought about her turning 17 and imagined her parents being excited for her high school graduation.

I wondered if she had a boyfriend, or if she had gotten her driver’s license yet.

I wondered what kind of student she was, if she was a musician, an actress, an artist, what color of hair she had.

I wondered if she went to prom, if she had a big circle of friends or mostly kept to herself.

I thought back to December of 1997 and remembered that I was at a crossroads at the time. I’d met a guy earlier that year who I tried to stay in California for, but it wasn’t in the cards (thanks to Cal State Long Beach losing my Michigan State transcripts six — yes, six — times).

In December of 1997, I was getting ready to say goodbye to guy, goodbye to parents, and hello to another long, cold Michigan winter. I was flying back to snow and ice, ready to start another semester.

Somewhere, however, a family was getting ready to bury their 17 year-old daughter, sister and friend.

We don’t know so many people who gently pass by our lives, but that’s not to say we didn’t — or can’t — have an effect on theirs.

I see so many license plate frames, rear-window stickers and roadside memorials with wilted flowers and faded ribbons that I personally can’t help but wonder about each one I notice.

Do you ever wonder who they are?

Tonight when I was driving home, I saw a license plate frame that read, “In memory of Tiffany. October 11, 1980 – December 15, 1997.” It didn’t have a last name, but it broke my heard to think of the sister that never had a chance to grow up, the daughter that her parents never had a chance to see walk down the aisle and the friend that so many wouldn’t be able to lean on.

I wondered if the 14.5 years between her passing and now have gotten any easier on those she left behind.

I doubt they have.

Tonight I am thankful for those people I am still surrounded by, and I am thankful for the effect that her life had on mine. Because even if I never knew her, the “in memory of” license plate frame was enough to make me feel honored to be among all the people that I love so dearly in my own life, and I pray that I have many more decades with them all.

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