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  • Last modified 82 days ago (Sept. 21, 2017)

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Never a stranger

Emporia State student Brooke Smith was anonymous to us as she drove through the county Saturday on what was to be a surprise visit to her brother in Lindsborg. Like countless others, she was just an unknown figure in an unfamiliar car speeding by on the highway.

When a 15-year-old driver inexplicably crossed the center line of K-150 Saturday night, 22-year-old Brooke became tragically relevant to us when she died instantly in the resulting collision. A name, a statistic, and when people heard about the accident, someone they naturally hoped would be “not us.”

In one sense, it’s supposed to be that way. None of us want to get that kind of news about someone we know and love, and relief learning they’re safe is natural. We’re not wired to embrace every tragedy as if it’s our own — life would be impossible if we were.

Yet if you take a minute to look deeper, Brooke Smith truly was one of us.

She’s the grinning baby sitting on her grinning dad’s lap. She’s the kid of yours who built a massive snow fort to hide out in with her little brother. She’s the teen down the street who loves to run and play soccer, or the one who’s a homecoming candidate. She’s your young adult college student. She’s my daughter’s best friend, hanging out together at the pool and sending each other texts faster than I ever thought humanly possible.

Brooke Smith wasn’t from here, but in all the ways that matter, she surely was one of us. We didn’t know her by name, but we know her from our own relationships and experience.

It’s the same with anyone who passes through. We’re more alike than different. We’ll recognize the important parts of ourselves in them if we take the time to look.

That’s something instinctive I see in the faces and actions of our emergency responders — police, fire, and ambulance — every time I have the sad task of watching them work to save lives and cope with the ones they can’t.

It’s not conscious thought in the moment, but I’ve never seen them do anything less than treat each situation as if it’s one of us in jeopardy, and it often is. With skill and urgency tempered by professional judgment, they give it their all, just as they did the other night, just as if the victims in that accident were people they’d known all their lives.

When they leave the scene, they never leave the accident behind. Professional though they may be, they’re human. Some shake it off faster than others, but they carry what happened for days, weeks, or longer. They’re us, too, and they deserve not only our gratitude but our ongoing support.

We won’t mourn Brooke in the same way those who knew her will, but we should take the occasion of her untimely death to do something special about us.

Make a point today of telling your kids, your spouse, your parents, or anyone else close to you that you love them. Forgive a past transgression. Spend a little extra time doing something fun, silly, or thoughtful for someone else. Pull up a chair by your child’s bed and watch them sleep. The possibilities are endless. Choosing even one to do now is important.

In doing so, you’ll be touching in simple ways the essentials of life that make all of us one big “us.” What better way is there to honor someone’s memory than to make it real in the present?

— david colburn

Last modified Sept. 21, 2017

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