“It doesn't happen here."
Growing up in a small town, that was my thought whenever I heard about something tragic happening in a nearby city. Of course, with so many people, there's a greater chance of something happening. It's not as safe, more chances to fall into the wrong group: the list of consequences could go on and on. Basically, I grew up thinking that nothing could go wrong in my perfect little town.
But then, inevitably...something does.
Something happens, and it feels as if the whole world has come to a stop. Suddenly our happy little town is grieving, broken-hearted, and not even sure what to do next. We don't really know how to work through grief because many of us have never had to before.
As I was preparing for college, I couldn't wait to leave this town. But now, as I'm actually getting ready to leave, I realize how lucky I am to have grown up here. Nowhere else would I have found the amazing friends, community, and support system then I have come to love and appreciate.
And even though it's heartbreaking to leave my home when it feels as if everything has come crumbling down around us, I know that everyone will be okay, because they have each other. They have this town.
The town that cares about its young people more than anything.
The town that lets any team who won a championship ride on top of fire trucks all the way down Main Street.
The town where policemen drive around and hand out candy on Halloween.
The town where principals volunteer to get pied in the face in front of everybody at a festival.
The town whose coordinates I wear on a necklace.
The town full of teachers who will go to the ends of the Earth to help you succeed; or in times like this, even to help you just keep going.
The town where parents will throw open their doors and let 15 kids sleep in their living room because they know they don't want to be alone.
The town that will all come together to support one of its families on the toughest day of their lives.
The town that will never, ever forget Braden, because he touched all of us.
And the town where you know you'll always be okay—because everyone is here for you.
So, as I get ready to leave, all I can say is this: even though it may seem like this is the end of the world, you'll be okay. You'll be okay because you have these friends, and this community, and this town. Lean on each other, and remember him, and keep living.
My heart and prayers are with you, his family, and this town.
This town that, even when our hearts are broken, we are so lucky to have.