I know I often complain of living in such a small town and more often than not, I am daydreaming of moving to somewhere a bit more urban. Today is not one of those days. Today I am very proud of my small town. Today we will say goodbye to one of our own. Today our town will lay a hero to rest.
We live in a sleepy little town in the central part of the state. It is an old mill town built along the Blackstone River. It is full of hardworking people who really do care about one another. In the 6 years or so that we have lived here I have seen and experienced first hand the community come together in hard times. Within hours of house fires emails are flying around coordinating donations for the displaced families, when the school override failed parents came together to raise funds to keep some of the activities from being cut and during the awful winter this year neighbors helped neighbors dig out from the snow. When I had complications after Emily was born and was in and out of the hospital people came out of the woodwork to help me...watching the girls for me, making dinners for us and even just standing next to my car in the morning so I didn't have to drag the baby out at school drop off. Many of them I barely knew at the time...now I consider them friends. The term "salt of the earth" really fits for our town.
So when a 22 year old soldier from our town was killed in Afghanistan, his death rocked our little town to it's core. Bad things like that happen to other people, other places...not here. Now, don't get me wrong, our town is not perfect, we have our issues too (break-ins, drug problems and our fair share of crazy), but the death of such a young, promising member of our community has hit hard.
Once again our town has pulled together to support his family. Almost every house has an American flag proudly displayed, which were handed out by local veterans who stood in the town square for days making sure all who wanted one got one. The firefighters worked tirelessly putting up flags and yellow ribbons all along the funeral procession route. The little bridal shop in "downtown" has flags in their window, the cafe has messages of thanks on their sandwich board...so do several other businesses. I have seen street sweepers coming through to clear away all the winter sand, volunteers decorating the traffic islands in red, white and blue and making sure our town looks its best for the soldier's family. It is just a small way for us as a town to show his family our appreciation. It gives me goose bumps every time I drive through town.
One thing that strikes me the most is that no one I have talked to in town knows this soldier or his family. It doesn't matter. When one of our own is hurting, we are all hurting. Through all of this I have not heard any of the typical rhetoric, "we need to get the hell out of there"..."bomb them all"...because, again, it doesn't matter right now. No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, a 22 year old died. Showing his family our gratitude and respect is all that matters right now.
Later this morning I will be taking my girls out on this raw and rainy morning to stand and watch the funeral procession. I want them to understand what a true hero is. I think too often people look to sports stars and entertainers as role models. I always hear the term "class act" thrown around when an athlete tosses a ball to a kid in the stands. To me that is not a hero. I am sure it is pretty easy to sign a contract awarding you millions of dollars to throw a football. It takes unbelievable courage and bravery to sign your name on a military contract. Many young men and women are literally signing their life away when they sign on that dotted line. To me, a hero is an ordinary person who, when faced with an extraordinary circumstance rises to the challenge; soldiers, firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses and teachers. My girls like to listen to Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, that is ok...I think they have good, positive messages for girls in their music. However, when it comes to role models I will teach them about Malala Yousafza the young girl shot by the Taliban because she refused to back down in her idea that girls should receive an education, Mother Teresa for her dedication to helping the poor...the likes of them.
As I sit and type this post the girls are putting the finishing touches on the signs they plan to hold as the hearse and family ride by. It is because of the sacrifices of this young man and so many men and women that have gone before him that I am able write about and post my opinions, that my girls are able to receive an education that has given them the ability to read and write their signs, and, that we have the freedom to walk down the end of our street to see his procession go by. For that we are eternally grateful. Rest easy Corporal John Dawson. Thank you for your service.