Sometimes you wanna go…where everybody knows your name… And sometimes you want to forget all the beautiful memories rooted in youthful naiveté that shielded you from the real world.
I was raised in a small town in Alabama and anyone who knows me understands my passion for small towns, community, and all (complicated) things southern. One of the realities of small town southern living is the shattering impact of the loss of a community/family member. When someone makes a transition in a small town, it touches everyone in the community – even when we live hours away. It’s that moment when your mother calls and says, “Have you heard about [insert name here]?” And you don’t want to reply because ‘hearing about’ someone from a small town usually means “Have you heard that [insert name here] ‘passed away’?” Most often, those making transitions are elderly or have been battling some delibitating illness. Those transitions are still traumatic, still heart-wrenching but those are the losses for which we have prepared ourselves [somewhat]. So we cry. We pay our respects. We cook. We attend funerals that quickly turn it into a family reunion recalling when [so-and-so] was just a little kid reaking havoc all over the neighborhood. And we go home. A little different. A little sad. But we go home – in tact as a community.
Those are the transitions that are not as difficult to comprehend. Those are the transitions for which we do not question God’s decision. Those are the transitions that leave us temporarily deflated but not empty.
And then there are the unexpected transitions of people we deem to be gone too soon. These transitions quiet our small towns as we mourn with great uncertainty. These transitions force us to call into question our Christian upbringing (but we know better than to question God). So in public we say, “God knew what was best.” and in private or in our minds we whisper, “Why God? Why him/her? Why like this?”
I missed my mother’s call last weekend. Had I answered I know she would have asked, “Have you heard about Fonzo?” And I had. He was a few years younger than I but hearing of his untimely transition jolted me down a memory lane of all those names that I could call in remembrance. They were classmates that sat behind me in high school; friends that laughed with me at lunch or played with me in the neighborhood; girls that rode bikes with me down the hill by my house; and family members and first loves. I say their names with libations: Scottie Kelser, Jr., Gary Cottingham, Brad Davis, Tawanna Davis, Joel Hudson, Kendra Sanders, Arthur Brown, Marcus Pringle, Donnie Maynor, Broderick Caddell, Alfonso Caddell, Terrance Gaines, Lovel Gaines Jr., Christopher Ward, Carlos Davis…
To say that we – as a community – have not been impacted by the transitions of these young people would be a lie. It has changed us. It has changed our community. We are a family; so much like our blood related family, when our community family members transition to the spiritual realm, the impact is felt. We hurt. We feel a little less complete. We are changed.
Whenever I visit, I often stay in the confines of my mother’s home because the outside reality is a reminder of how much has changed. It’s possible that I have romanticized my upbringing, but I remember full churches on Sundays, loud blues music playing and fish frying, summertime baseball while the smell of barbeque filled the air, kickball games after school, fresh outfits on the Fourth of July just to walk around the block, Friday Night Lights, pep rallies where the school spirit was so high that you’d think our team was State Champs, making mud pies with flower decorations, catching ‘lightning bugs’, Christmas programs with long speeches that we dare not forget, Vacation Bible School, the occasional fist fight and girl drama, small town gossip and lies, watching the street lights as we played outside (and running home when my mother called my name), etc. We were alive and vibrant.
Now, we are quiet and still. Our vibrance is diminished slightly as we mourn and grieve. However, in our resilience, we keep moving and keep the spirits of those we’ve lost in our hearts. Small towns, big heartaches…and even bigger love.
“and if i ever touched a life i hope that life knows
that i know that touching was and still is and will always
be the true
[from Nikki Giovanni’s “When I Die”]
We are forever touched by your lives… Ase…