I live in a county with a population in the neighborhood of 100,000. Directly north of us, and interwoven in our mutual edges, is a community hovering near 30,000 – Lee County. The majority of the working force in that community works in our town, or owns businesses in our town.
We are close in many ways.
Families live and work across these city and county lines. So celebrations cross those lines too. I heard at church, tonight, someone say if you researched, every seventh person will somehow be related to you. I believe that is especially true in this area. If not by blood, then purely by association.
This was recently apparent as a small town singer hit it big. While he is not the first one, after all Luke Bryan and Buster Posey are both from the little town just across the way, and lets not forget Ray Charles, Ray Stevens and Patty LaBelle from our side of the fence; his journey rocked this area and the country.
Lee County shined bright with the journey Phillip Phillips set out on earlier this year. Leading up to last weeks win on American Idol was an adventure for even those that might not have ever met or known him personally. He has sung at local events for quite a few years now. If you don't know him, then you know his sister. Or his cousin. Or his father. Shoot, I pass the pawn shop everyday on my way to work. By some reactions on FaceBook that might have put me somehow in line to be a part of his stardom - it does not! I am just kidding. But with some of the hoopla, that is not really that far fetched.
For weeks, businesses have had signs up cheering on Phillips, reminding folks to vote, keeping his name ever present. The attention and energy almost seems strange with as quiet and unassuming as he seems to be. The celebrity status has not seemed to be his goal in this journey. And while I am not a fan of American Idol, I tuned in to watch the final. I am so glad I did. As emotion overtook him and he showed the world what was a priority, I enjoyed seeing values displayed in an area that seems to be a lot about reaching that celebrity status and fame.
Phillip Phillips graduated in 2007. The same year this gentleman graduated in the same class, in the same county.
This gentleman, three days after the excitement of a local’s American Idol win, lost his life to an IED in Afghanistan.
At some point, each week, I hear a reference on the news to the number of American casualties overseas. Sometimes I say quick prayer for families without names in unknown areas of the country. Sometimes I don’t really even hear the report – too busy too distracted or not wanting to imagine the emotion – avoidance.
It is interesting, though, when it is someone from your community, it feels very different. It settles in to your heart and thoughts. There is a connection, even without a known connection. He IS from our home town. HE is a young man. A husband. A stepdad. Parents are hurting. A young wife is dealing with something beyond me. He is a part of our community.
Soon there will be a homecoming service for this Hero. The plans have not been finalized, but the first words of plans have begun to surface on Facebook. His wife has planned a service with family and the closest of friends, but she wants “AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE to line the streets holding flags and signs” along the way from the church to the cemetery. 11.4 miles between the two sites. The thought of people, shoulder to shoulder, showing up to support to that family, showing support to those in service, stirs deep into my being. The Chamber has received word that the Patriot Guard Riders will be escorting the family – and a 1000 at that. That touches a in that coner of my being where patriotism and respect resides.
To the best of my memory, this is the first soldier to return for his homecoming service to this community. Others have died that have lived in the community, at some time in their past; but not brought back to be laid to rest here.
I wonder, did someone today receive such a call? Yesterday? What about tomorrow. I know, everyday people lose loved ones, and lose them in tragic situations. But it does make me slow down and think of those that have loved ones in harms way and KNOWING each day there is a greater chance that their door will be the one being knocked on.
As I drove to work this morning, many businesses still had signs displaying their cheers for small town American Idol winner. This afternoon I passed several that offered honor and thanks to a small town Hero.
"Leesburg is proud of those who carry guitars, microphones and baseball bats. But we HONOR and Salute those that wear Dog Tags.......Rest In Peace Lance Corporal Steven Sutton. Fallen in the line of duty serving in the USMC in Afghanistan on Saturday at the age of 23." McKinney (Facebook)