Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Death In A Small Town

Before I came to live in the metropolitan area of St. Louis, I lived in a small town in central Illinois.  It is situated amidst expansive corn and bean fields with sweeping vistas of the prairie land in every direction.  It is a peaceful place populated with hard working families that produces a sense of family among the residents.  Because of this atmosphere, whenever a death occurs, the community experiences the loss.  But when the deceased is someone very young, the loss is even more greatly felt.

Such is the sad case that began to unfold in the early morning hours of May 5.  A young nineteen year old girl driving her car on a rural highway ran into the rear end of a car ahead of her and both cars went careening into the path of an oncoming semi.  The massive truck slammed into both vehicles.  When it was all over, the truck drive was uninjured, the driver of the car that the other car hit received only minor injuries, but the driver of the car that hit the back end of the other car was critically injured.  She had to be airlifted to a hospital in a larger nearby city.  There was little hope, apparently, from the beginning that she would survive.  A little earlier today, May 6, she succumbed to her horrible injuries.  She was only 19.

Word of her death spread instantaneously throughout the small town.  A pall of sadness has settled in over the little community.  Everyone in the town obviously feels a sense of loss that is personal even if they never met the young victim.  In a small town, this kind of loss is personal.

It has always been the case in small towns that everyone knows everyone else.  Or at least that's the perception.  There is a level of care and kindness that is palpable when compared to bigger cities.  It is a place in which the term neighbor has not lost its true meaning.  Everyone is connected in some way or another.  And so when a younger member of the community dies tragically, all pause for a moment to understand that it was one of their own who died and that they probably know someone who is either related to the deceased or at least knows them.

This is the heart of America.  The spirit of America which seems, in so many communities, to be dead, is alive and well in this small Midwestern town.  And so it is today.  The town is united in sadness over the passing of one of its youngest citizens.  Prayers are being offered for the family and food is being prepared to be delivered to the grieving family's home to help them through the next few horrible days. 

The memory of the young girl will be first and foremost on the citizenry's mind.  Many who never knew her will attend her funeral.  All will weep each in their own way.  The sadness will effect everyone in as many different ways as there are citizens.  The city will be gripped in the story of this promising young lady's death.  And in days to come, the resiliency of the citizens of Small Town America will begin to manifest itself.  Life will resume its normal pace but the young lady who died as the result of the tragic accident on a lonely rural highway will linger.  People will comfort one another and life will move on with the town a little more closely knit.

Life is experienced a little more differently in a small town.  And so is death.  There is the stabbing sting of the death and the loss of a young person that permeates each household.  But there also is the comfort of neighbor reaching out to neighbor.  There is the assurance that this, too, shall pass.  And there is the assurance to the family of the victim that they shall not pass through this time alone.  A whole community composed mainly of strangers will stand arm-in-arm behind them ready to give comfort and aid to them.  While the wound of the loss is deep, that wound will heal because of the balm that is the Small Town.