Rising to the Challenge At a Time of Vulnerability
Julie was a beautiful girl, easily one of the most popular in our high school class. She didn't participate in many clubs or activities, but she always seemed to be everywhere and knew everyone.
She wanted to be a model and spent most of her time outside school with a little agency in our coastal Florida town. In my 1984 Scorpio yearbook, she's one of the seniors featured in a "Spotlights" segment. She looks to be sitting on a wooden rail. Through the stand of river oaks surrounding her, you can see the Banana River.
She and her parents were on their way to church that February morning. It had been raining, and U.S. 1 was slick when the accident occurred. All three of them died.
We were all thunderstruck the next morning. She had been in my first-period humanities class, and the void was suffocating. For most of us, it was the first time we'd lost a peer, someone whose wake still cut through our lives.
Our senior class dedicated the back page of the yearbook to her. The page included a black-and-white photo of the ocean and the poem "Crossing the Bar" from Alfred Tennyson:
"For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place / The flood may bear me far, / I hope to see my Pilot face to face /
When I have crost the bar."
I thought back to Julie earlier this week as I heard the news of Allie Rabstejnek. She was 16, heading off last Saturday morning for Pinecrest High to prepare for that night's Bandfest 2012. Routine - it was all so routine, the whole lot of it, until it wasn't anymore. Instead, there were grief counselors and visits by the minister and roadside memorials.
We ache - not just those who knew her but as a whole community. I have been in this business a long time, and it never gets easier to confront these stories, much less the task of putting them in the newspaper. There are some who think newspapers and other media play up these stories for their sensational, emotional value. I have seen that happen at times over the years - the media horde perched on the front lawn of a victim's family is cliche for a reason.
The proper thing to do, it would seem, is give a family and friends time to grieve their loss privately.
But when it's a young person, that's often hard to do, especially these days where peers mourn and honor their friends so openly on Facebook, Twitter and special Internet tribute pages.
And when it's someone like Allie Rabstejnek, her community was so much larger than Pinecrest or West End. Those folks remember her roles in the Pinecrest marching band, the swim team, the French club, or working with the children's Sunday School classes at Seven Lakes Chapel in the Pines.
We all feel the loss of someone with this presence, this potential. How else to explain what happened last Saturday night during the annual Bandfest competition at the school? It was not only her own band that paid her tribute that night, but every single other school band.
The kids from Union Pines stand out. They showed their rivals - their peers - the true spirit of community, pitching in to help and support the Pinecrest kids through their routine and then staying to clean up the stadium at the night's end.
As Sheila Theune, president of the Pinecrest Band Boosters Club, wrote to The Pilot earlier this week, "The loving support of our friends from Union Pines - offered at a time when our students, staff and volunteers needed it most - will be forever appreciated."
On Facebook, the responses were unanimous: "Awesome!", "Way to go UP!" and "Brought tears to my eyes." The best comment came from Ashley Assad McKinney: "Makes me so proud to live in such a great community."
They came out in force over the past two days to pay their respects to Allie and honor all that she stood for, not because it was the right thing to do but because it was the only thing to do.
Children like Allie are the greatest asset we have. We celebrate their success and suffer their loss.
It is not in triumph that we get a true measure of our community character, but how we act when we are at our most vulnerable. And it's at these times when we are most proud to live in such a great community.
John Nagy is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.
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