Last Thursday, tragedy struck my small suburban upper middle class town.
Unfortunately, this tragedy seems all too familiar; it’s the sixth time something like this has occurred in the past four years.
A teenage life cut short. A family torn apart. A community rallying to lend support. The reality that each day should be lived like it’s the last reinforced to all.
Since I began my freshman year in college, there have been five other deaths in our small town.
*E.K. hit a tire lying in the middle of the road while driving home at night that sent his SUV flying into a tree and burst into flames. He was 22 years old and 1/5 of a mile from his house.
*MA hit a tree when he came around a sharp bend late at night at a very high speed. He was 17.
*J.W. was lost at the expense of an OD…the taboo topic of suburbia. He was 18.
*AB (a close friend of mine) was killed when his Jeep flipped over on the highway and was ejected from his seatbelt while driving home in the predawn hours. AB was 1 week away from his 22nd birthday.
*NT was killed when his SUV crashed into a three telephone poles while driving through the center of town 8 minutes before his curfew. He was 21, and ½ mile from his house
*AO drowned while swimming in a lake in Maine while away at football camp with the high school football team. AO was 15 and 1 week away from starting his sophomore year.
It’s truly awful that it takes such horrible events to make people realize the value of life- the joy of each breath, the power of last words spoken, that there are no guarantees, or predictable second chances.
Although I am away from home, this tragedy really struck me. AO was my little sister’s classmate,, my neighbors all-star football player, the school teachers comic relief, the town’s 6th reminder that the future is uncertain.
AO’s family relocated to our town a few years ago. They moved from a neighboring city with a marginal school system, a high crime rate, and a higher poverty rate. Life seemed to be going well. AO had amazing friends, was well liked by coaches and teachers, and the family was settling in, enjoying their new surrounds.
But everything changed in an instant.
The moment the town got word that tragedy had struck again, they went into auto pilot. Meals were cooked, ribbons were made, memorials were held, differences were put aside, and the focus was on supporting the sufferers.
The small town B.S. (politics) was put aside, pre-season sports team practices were postponed, stressing over not having finished summer reading ceased. Suddenly, life was in perspective. Girls made ribbons and organized a memorial match and candle light vigil on the high school field. Boys rallied support and raised funds to support the unexpected cost of loosing a loved one prematurely. Life was put into perspective.
Tonight was the first night of the wake. Hundreds of people gathered to mourn the loss of a life. Tomorrow AO will take his symbolic journey to the next life, but his memory here on this one will never be forgotten.
Please remember that you never know what tomorrow will bring. Give your friends and loved ones a hug, don’t go to bed angry, don’t assume that you will have tomorrow to right the wrongs. In the famous words of James Dean, “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”
RIP A.O. You will always be in our hearts.