We often hear and read about the problems and hardships of others. But this time, it’s too close to home…just next door, to be exact. 

 Until hardly a month ago, a little 5 year-old blonde named Justine Schultz was my very inquisitive next door neighbor. What has happened to her in the last week is beyond comprehension.

 I’ve watched Justine progress from her stroller to her hands and knees to her legs, and I have listened to her develop into our neighborhood’s great communicator.

 Even at the age of 3, she could carry on an adult conversation, handling the art of grammar and vocabulary with amazing authority for a preschooler. 

 Hardly a day would pass that I didn’t have some sort of exchange with Justine. 

 She’s played the role of the always cheerful, upbeat Dennis Mitchell and I’ve been the grumpy, out-of-sorts Mr. Wilson. 

 She’s been a pest, but she’s been a pleasant pest. I’ve growled at her to stay out of my garage or away from the hot grill, and she’s always happily obliged…at least for a few minutes. And no matter how much I’ve growled and barked at her, she always has a pleasant comeback. 

 I haven’t had to bark or growl at Justine for about a month since she and her family moved to their new home across town. 

 And as she left, I would have never imagined that anything was wrong with her – especially within that very gifted space between her ears. She was planning to start kindergarten in the fall – I was giving her – say- three seconds to make that adjustment, and maybe three days before she took over as the teacher. 

 Last Thursday night, we were awakened by phone call from another neighbor. The message was that someone heard from someone else that Justine had been flown from Kankakee to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago after a startling discovery that much of her brain was covered by a tumor. 

 I hoped that this was a typical somebody-told-somebody-told-somebody- story that had been stretched from each somebody to the next somebody. But out of fear that “somebody” was right. It was difficult to sleep that night. 

 And on Friday, I learned that all of those somebodies had their stories straight – Justine Schultz was indeed a patient at Children’s Memorial Hospital where she would undergo brain surgery this week. 

 I understand that she had been complaining (I can’t even imagine her complaining) of headaches from time to time, and she didn’t feel well after bumping her head while playing on Thursday. The source of her problem was far more severe than a playground knock on the noggin. 

 This week, Justine may lose her vision – she already has in one eye. And, needless to say, loss of vision is not a major concern under her present condition. 

 It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that her very life is in peril. 

 Justine’s parents – Greg and Anne Schultz – report that their daughter has been coping with hospitalization and loss of vision in one eye with her usual cheerful attitude. 

 On 7:30 AM Tuesday, she was scheduled to undergo what we all hope and pray was a long and successful surgery.

 Sifting through agony and anxiety now being experienced by Justine’s family, and the very life-threatening condition in which she exists, there is a silver lining. And that is, that Justine Schultz, while she was only 5, is one of the few people I know who can make the best of this situation. 

 The word of Justine’s plight has quickly spread throughout the community. And genuine concern for Justine takes the forefront on many of local conversation these days. 

 We all hope and pray Justine survives this ordeal. 

 And if she comes out with any handicaps, she’ll be able to roll with the punches…far better than her grouchy ex-neighbor who can’t wait to chase her out of his garage again.