Incidents in a Small Town
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

Living in a small town, you share a sense of common destiny with your neighbors. When tragedy strikes, the whole community trembles.

Our town has been shaken twice in recent weeks. The police chief, a popular and respected man with a young family, died in a freak highway accident when a delivery truck swerved into his lane and hit him head-on with its load.

Barely two weeks later a single mother and her four small children were murdered in their home and a local sharecropper, known to be a friend of theirs, was found dead in his pickup from a gunshot wound to his head. Investigators suspect a murder-suicide, but they are still trying to find a motive.

A year ago, at about the same time, we were mourning a young boy who died on his way to church when the car his mother was driving flipped over on a tight curve in the road.

And soon thereafter we were attending the funeral of a well-liked woman, a cook at the grade school, who died suddenly from a brain aneurism.

Such tragedies happen everywhere, certainly, and the friends and families of the victims are always devastated. But in a small town, it seems, they carry added weight. The deceased are people we waved at on the street and exchanged news with down at the post office. We saw them at church last week or the Cub Scout breakfast the other night. Their kids slept over once or twice last summer.

Shake a branch on a large oak tree and all its leaves quiver, but the rest of the tree hardly notices. Break it off, even, and the tree will soon recover from the wound.

Shake a branch on a small aspen and the whole tree shudders. Break it off and the tree will suffer for many seasons.

In a similar sense, it takes a major disaster on the order of a flood or earthquake to make the residents of a big city feel connected to one another. Ever notice how the survivors of a disaster talk about the "community spirit" that surfaced during the hard times and how much they wish they could hold on to that feeling?

In a small town, community spirit arises from our sense of shared destiny. What happens to any one of us affects us all. In comforting one another, we comfort ourselves. In mourning, we experience a common loss.

This is one of the joys of small town living as well a terrible sorrow.

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