Her sudden death was dutifully reported in the Local News section of the Inquirer. It was the third anonymous headline in that day's "News in Brief": "Woman, 23, struck by car, killed in Kensington."
"A 23-year-old woman was fatally struck by a car Friday evening in the city's Kensington section, police said," the story began.
"About 5:15 p.m., she was crossing Lehigh Avenue near A Street when she was hit by a red Honda Civic traveling east on Lehigh. . . .
"The woman was taken to Episcopal Campus of Temple University Hospital and was pronounced dead at 6 p.m., police said."
I would not have given it a second look if not for a phone call to our house just before 8 the night before.
My wife, Sara, answered in the kitchen. First there was silence and then her screams, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
There is no sadder human plea to heaven. If you've heard it once, it lives with you forever.
Sara's younger sister, Liz, was calling to tell us that her only daughter, our niece, Erin, had died on the streets of Philadelphia. Hit by a car and killed instantly on her way from work at Episcopal.
Erin Wilson, brilliant, beautiful, hilarious, compassionate force of nature. Erin Wilson, a determined South Jersey girl who became a beloved star senior and student leader at Temple University's School of Social Administration, had died at the end of a perfect working day as an intern serving the underserved people with psychiatric illness in her chosen city.
Her mother hadn't wanted Erin to leave Jersey for college. When Erin asked me to write her a letter of recommendation to Temple, I asked her to first write me a letter describing herself. I gave her a one-week deadline.
"Uncle Clark," began the letter I received the next day, "I am a human. A woman, in fact, who has inhabited the Earth for a little over 20 years now. I live, breathe, eat, laugh, and cry. I am a young adult (which in turn means that I drive my mother clinically insane).
"My largest weakness, which doubles as my greatest characteristic, is that I dream without limits. There is one life to live and I absolutely hate being wasteful.
"Every day I try to learn about a life that is different from my own, and I always share my findings. A recent goal of mine has been to reach out to the Lost Boys of Sudan who inhabit the East Coast. My dream would be to host them as public speakers for my old high school."
I wrote a glowing letter of recommendation and sent Erin a copy. "That letter made me cry (but only a little)," Erin wrote back. "You're the best. I'll let you know when I'm accepted."
I loved that unconditional "when I'm accepted." Of course she was accepted and immediately established herself as BMOC (Big Mouth on Campus - a congenital family affliction).
As president of her sorority, Erin spearheaded a program to provide blankets for patients arriving for psychiatric evaluation at Episcopal for the simple reason that people complained that the hospital was cold. They could have made requests to the administration to turn the thermostat up, but there is something so much more direct, personal, and satisfying about wrapping a blanket around cold shoulders.
Among the hundreds who attended a memorial service last Sunday for Erin at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, N.J., where she worked for years while in school, more than 20 Temple classmates, administrators, and professors spoke of her lionhearted presence, advocacy, and transformative personal friendship. You never saw so many self-declared best friends, including our youngest daughter, Molly. From first grade to middle and high school to college roommates, a series of voices testified to the power of her friendship and the confidence it created within them.
She was cheerleader, confidante, and taskmaster by example. When they succeeded, she rejoiced and said, "See, I told you you could do it." She could keep it real, too, greeting their next triumph with a quizzical look and a curt, "How'd you do that?"
The memorial, the celebration of a young life overflowing with decades of promise, was all so sweet, so sad, and achingly familiar. Almost haunting.
Last Sunday was my birthday. My brother Doug was born a year and 10 days after I was. We slept in the same room for 18 years, breathed the same sour socks stink, fought like monkeys to the death at least once a week.
We shared eternal secrets. No two knew each other better. Yet our ritualized hatred for each other was so sacred, so inviolate, we never said out loud that we loved each other.
I came this close one time, our last conversation. Doug called to say goodbye. He and his girlfriend, Susie, were flying to Venezuela to visit a college friend from Penn State.
After a long, awkward pause, I said, "Take care of yourself," and Doug replied, "You too." I could feel he really meant it.
Those were our last heartfelt words to each other. Doug was 21, and Susie 20, when the plane crashed.
Last Sunday, Erin's older brother George told a similar story about their last conversation on Erin's 23rd birthday last month. Happily, George's story ended with the spoken words "I love you."
Wednesday is Doug's 66th birthday. I think by then Erin will have organized the party. There's no stopping that girl.