You never really know the impact someone has on your life until they are not longer in it, until you can't see their contagious smile after a rival football game or randomly check in to see how things are going. You never really know the strength of a community until tragedy hits. Two things I learned very quickly this weekend.
Mt. Zion is a town where we all say over and over that we can't wait to graduate, get out and not look back. But when it comes down to it, this small town is home and it always will be. We come from a community where we support our own and when tragedy strikes we become this huge family. And this past year, we've come together more often than not because this town makes up one team, one tribe, one family. Once a brave, always a brave. This time is no different.
Austin Ray. A name known by many. A star football player. An outstanding track athlete. An always smiling face. A classmate. A teammate. A family member. An amazing friend. A good soul taken way too soon. ARay.
I've been scrolling through social media aimlessly the past couple days and all I see are pictures like the one above of your smiling face, your football jersey, or stories about how much people loved you. I wish you could see the number of lives you have have touched down here, and I wish we realized it before it was too late to tell you, too. But I know you're watching from above. The entire town has been impacted by you, from the community that watched you be a powerhouse on the field and the kids who thought you were a god, to our graduating class. The stories I keep reading and the memories that have flashed through my head just go to show the type of person you were. You were humble, you were dedicated, you were kind, you were talented and you were so many other things to so many people. You had this contagious smile that brightened any situation; what so many people would give to see that right now.
People go an entire lifetime never meeting someone like you, but we were all blessed to know you for most of our lives. We got to grow up with you through the intense Friday night football, awkward first kisses, irreplaceable memories and infinite laughs. Your time here was cut short, you were taken too soon, and it doesn't seem real. I can read it all over social media, but it's just. so. surreal. So heartbreaking. So unfair. I'll still expect to see you after the Monmouth vs IC game next season, but I'll just be looking in different places.
"I bet you fly faster than you run."
Live it up in paradise ARay, you'll be forever missed down here. #36.