Apple picking. Singing in the rain. Sand between my toes at the beach. Snowball fights in winter. Running through the woods. The scent of my mother when she hugs me good night. The warmth of the sun on my face. The twinkle of stars in a summer sky. The taste of ice cream. The conversations, laughter, tears and time shared by friends. The joy of seeing a baby smile. The feel of a cool gust of wind on my face. The satisfaction of winning a track meet or a field hockey game. Wearing the symbolic red sweater of our academy’s senior class. Colleen and Erin will never do, feel, see, touch, taste, say or know any of these things again. One rainy morning, one puddle on the road and one tragic car crash later, their lives, and ours, will never be the same. Our friends are gone and so are others’ daughters, sisters, nieces, granddaughters, coworkers, inspirations, loved ones, babysitters, teachers, volunteers, students and athletes. They were extraordinary teenage girls with their whole lives ahead of them, discussing plans for college and running to after-school activities. Like us, the most important things on their minds were homework, what was going on this weekend, and what was for dinner when they got home. But that Tuesday, September 22, they never returned home and never would again. They left family and friends in despair, shock, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, loss and mourning. Priorities shifted, faith was questioned and our community was truly tested. To many of us, everything important became insignificant - we all lost track of the latest homework assignments, the dates of the athletic events and just about everything else. We suddenly realized that the only way we could get through such a loss was together. At the very instant that we discovered the tragic deaths of our friends and classmates, we pulled together and clung to one another for dear life. Superficial facades faded away, strangers hugged, parted friends reconciled and forgave, parents held their nearly-grown children as protectively as delicate infants, students leaned on teachers and teachers leaned on students. Compassion, understanding and love replaced competition, exclusion and animosity. The responses and outpours of support were utterly amazing. I am thankful that our class and community have bonded so tightly in the last, trying week, but I beg you not to wait for such a disaster to appreciate all you have. Savor every chocolate chip cookie, hug your family and friends each time as if it were your last, smell the next rose you walk by, talk to the girl at the back of the class, stroll the beach barefoot, smile at strangers, hug those who look sad, apologize to someone you hurt, say “thank you” to people and never forget to say “I love you.” This could have been anyone - your friend, sister, brother, cousin, classmate, teacher, parent - absolutely anyone. Treasure every day you are given and be thankful. After all, we are alive, we still have each other and that is all we really need. S
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.