It isn't often that I brag about where I come from. Guernsey County (Senecaville, OH to be exact) is not the most exciting place to grow up. Without a shopping mall, only one movie theatre and a hand full of McDonald's, the majority of entertainment rests on late night trips to Wal-Mart. Sure, there is plenty of land to hunt, multiple lakes and ponds to fish, and endless dirt roads to explore but I never wanted anything to do with that. I was too busy anticipating the day I could graduate and move away to college. But as my number of returns back "home" decrease each year, my appreciation for the place that allowed me to become the person I am today continues to grow.
In such a small community; there aren't many strangers, not a lot of secrets and certainly not much privacy. During our teenage years this is what we dread the most. When everybody knows everybody, it isn't hard to open the door to certain judgments and criticism. It can make it difficult to truly express yourself without the fear of who will say what. The same community that can make you feel like an outcast is the same community that comes together whenever tragedy strikes. In such a safe environment, it isn't often we are faced with bad news. But when we are, it affects us all.
A few days ago we were forced to face such news when we lost a member of this tight knit community. Although she hasn't been the first person to leave us too soon, it still hurts like a new experience. It's an experience we all fear. To hear the news that someone who always seemed within an arms length is no longer with us. The inability to see her smile again or the chance to say a final goodbye will forever create an internal emptiness.
I never had the opportunity to actually meet Natalie, but it is obvious to see the joy she spread to those who did. It makes me regret never taking the time to actually get to know someone who was a Facebook friend. Her pictures would pop-up on my timeline and she always seemed like such a free spirit. The kind of girl who was brave enough to express herself without the fear of what the community may say. Her impact on her friends, family, and peers will leave a lifetime impression.
An impression that should be applauded by all. For living in fear is not the way we should conduct ourselves. After reading every post on her timeline, it is encouraging to see the love people had for her. I just hope she knew this while she was still here.