When I was growing up my grandfather had a blue bumper sticker on the back of his car... it said: "I live in America's Greatest Little City: LaGrange, Georgia!" I did not share the same sentiment as that sticker and there were many years after I was old enough to move away from LaGrange that I vowed to never make my home there again. Small... too far from a big city... few choices in shopping, eating & entertainment... people always knowing your business; as a young adult I much preferred the excitement, variety & anonymity that a big town provided. After I had a family of my own we found ourselves transferred far away. Being a parent can make you appreciate things you once took for granted. Simplicity... semi-isolation from the big city & its influences... everybody knowing your business. As I became a 30-something mother-of-many-small-children, LaGrange began to appeal to me in ways it never had before and years later we made the choice to make our home here again. We could've moved back to Atlanta... to crowded surburbia where we could just be faces in a crowd with hundreds of options for dinner... but LaGrange ironically had more to offer. Approaching 40 I would proudly but a copy of my grandfather's bumper sticker on the back of my car... no longer a restless teenager eager to spread her wings for something more exciting, but an adult and mother who recognizes the beauty of small-town life. But it is not my motherhood that truly opened my eyes to the preciousness of LaGrange... it is being a daughter.
This past weekend I watched as one of my best friends from high school lost his mother to cancer. At her funeral when I took my seat in the balcony of the packed church I fell in love again with LaGrange and realized that I as much as I love "living" here... I want to die here. My friend's mother walked in the same shoes my own mother had worn a year ago. Both young and active, they tragically learned one doesn't have to be old to get sick and die. And though my mother and my friend's mother shared the same suffering and death, many things about their lives were very different. They ran in different circles and participated in different activities. They had different friends and lived in different neighborhoods across town. Their childrens' friendships made the other's name familiar with the other, but they were not "friends." With all that was different about the lives these women led on a day-to-day basis, because they shared the same community their dying was greatly the same. The same small town who met every need my family had a year ago, met hers this past month. The same community that prayed for and cried with and showed up to care for my mother and her family, surrounded my friend's family as well. The people who made things happen with one phone call... no matter the hour on the clock were the same. The friends may have been different but the values were the same. The churches were different but the love and service towards the hurting was the same. The women were different but the compassion they received was the same. I took coolers of drinks to my friend's childhood home last Wednesday night. The driveway was crowded with the cars of those who came to be with his family and his mother. I remembered. I remembered the love and attention and security. I remembered the amazing gratitude I felt toward the people who dropped everything to surround us with comfort and meet our every need. They were at his house now. Their names were different, but their hearts were the same. These are the people who make up the City of LaGrange. They are what make it "America's Greatest Little City." A city where I want my children to grow-up and myself to grow old. And no matter how "old" I am when the Lord chooses to call me home, I know that the same small-town that helped my Mother and Mrs. Claire die with dignity, in peace and comfort and surrounded by an outpouring of love will do the same for me.