Members of the Alvord community gathered Saturday near Aisha Bryant’s gravesite to release balloons on what would have been her 17th birthday.
When the mass of balloons were released, just as the sun set, the entire congregation stood in silence.
Some dabbed at tears; others held one another in support. But all were there to beautifully commemorate a life taken much too soon, a pain the community knows all too well.
Bryant was killed May 25 in a car accident on U.S. 81/287 north of Decatur, a little more than a year-and-a-half after the town lost then-17-year-old Samantha Rogers and 15-year-old Delaney Mancil in a wreck on U.S. 380.
Each loss resonates with everyone in the town of about 1,500. If it doesn’t affect a person directly, chances are it hurts a person they love. Each blow just as painful as – if not more than – the one before it.
“You start healing from one loss, and bam! You’re knocked back down,” said Avi Patel, a 2011 Alvord High School graduate who was in the same graduating class as Sam and who knew Aisha through band. “It’s enough. We don’t know what kind of plan the guy up there has, but it’s enough. It hurts so bad.”
But in times of pain, the curse of being so small is also the town’s saving grace.
“We are so small, tragedy like this affects all of us,” Patel said. “But at the same time, we are so close knit, and we help one another through tragic times like this. If we were in a big city, it would be just one more death.”
Instead, the loss of each one has led to several commemorative events, such as the balloon release Saturday. Members of the community have established memorial scholarships in the name of Samantha and Delaney. They are funded by various events – fun runs, skeet shoots, basketball tournaments and auctions – all opportunities not only benefiting a great cause, but also providing healing and community building.
Through the trying times, it has been that bond – strengthened by those tribulations – that has best helped the Alvord community cope.
“Of all the stuff we’ve been through, we’ve stuck together and gotten through all of it,” said Sheena Schmucker, a coach at Alvord.
As the community continues to rely on that strength to get through the most recent tragedy in the loss of Aisha, some members will take what they’ve learned to help others recovering from a different form of devastation
A group of 22 – including 18 high school girls, Schmucker and her husband Rob (also a coach at Alvord) and two other teachers – will travel to Joplin, Mo., the first week of July to aide in the tornado recovery efforts.
One-hundred sixty-one people were killed and hundreds more injured in the a twister on May 22, 2011 that also destroyed thousands of buildings.
“In addition to cleanup, they’re having to rebuild their sense of community,” Schmucker said.
I can’t think of anyone better to help than members of a community who have shown nothing but resilience and unity in the face of their own tragic events over the past two years.