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Big heart in a small world

“One day in the 1980s, I was in my big rig on the Cross Bronx Expressway in the Bronx, New York and someone called me by name on the CB radio. “Roy Clements, look down to your left.” The voice was familiar and welcomed. Who did I see? None other than Hugh and Iris Braswell from Swainsboro. I told them on the radio to fall in behind me, and we would be in Swainsboro by the morning. They said they had more to see before returning home, and we parted ways as they exited the expressway. I will never forget seeing Hugh and Iris and how good it felt to see someone from home. It was good to hear that familiar Swainsboro drawl from good friends while I was so far away and alone.” – Roy Clements Jr.

I had heard this story from mom and dad more than once. In fact, it came up almost every time that any of us traveled. I often traveled for business in the ‘90s. When traveling, I thought of Mom and Dad’s “small world” experience. It wasn’t long before I had one of my own.

Arriving in Chicago’s O’Hare airport on a flight that had been delayed, I was in a frantic hurry. I had only seven minutes to make my changeover flight, which was in another part of the airport. As soon as I exited the plane, I began to run toward the distant terminal. That’s when we collided! The other guy was running as well, so we hit pretty hard. His books and my papers were strewn all over the floor.

Embarrassed but in a hurry, I frantically gathered my belongings. I shoved them back into my briefcase, half-hardheartedly issuing apologies. Grabbing the books from the floor, I handed them up to this stranger I had just freight trained. He was from Swainsboro! Although we barely had time to speak to one another and barely knew each other, it was comforting to see someone from home.

The first two stories were included merely to set up the next and illustrate just how small this world can be. The following account was told to me by my sister, Susan. She was a flight attendant for United Airlines at the time of the occurrence. This story eliminates the idea that many happenstance occurrences are merely coincidental. Frankly, I do not believe in coincidence at all. Sometimes we may dismiss God’s work as a coincidence and miss an opportunity laid before us.

My sister began her story with, “On a flight from Washington D.C. Dulles to Las Vegas, I was working in the rear galley. A lady rose from her seat and entered the aisle ahead of me to stretch her legs. Our eyes met, and we began to make small talk. Most people wanted to talk about my job as a flight attendant. I always turned this around by asking them about themselves.”

As the lady opened up to my sister about herself, it soon became evident that the hand of God was at work. “I am moving from a small town in Georgia,” the lady said with a touch of sadness in her voice. My sister, Susan, of course, became more interested in the story, being herself from a small town in Georgia. When Susan inquired about the town’s name, the lady responded, “Oh, I am sure that you have never heard of it. it is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.”

My sister continued, “Something, a feeling in my heart, I suppose, told me that I really needed to hear this lady’s story. There was more that I needed to hear. I persisted because the woman just kept insisting that the town was so small that no one so far away would know of it.” Finally, after my sister told the lady that she too was from a small town in Georgia, the lady relented.

“The name of the town is Swainsboro; it is near Augusta,” came the reply from the lady. My sister was floored when she heard the name of her own hometown. My sister could sense the distress in the woman’s voice; she felt there was more. Susan prodded the lady to continue her story. High over the nation’s heartland, a heartfelt exchange was about to take place.

The lady went on painfully, “I loved the town, but I didn’t live there very long. My husband was the pilot of a small plane that went down in Augusta, killing all aboard. They were all from Swainsboro.” Mesmerized, my sister thought, ‘How can this be happening?’

As my sister stood there holding back tears, she listened as this lady recounted a story that my family knew only too well. Although traveling at almost 600 miles per hour through the air, my sister’s entire world stood still. As she listened, tears now streamed down her face. The lady recounted the plane crash that had taken the life of our own first cousin and our friends’ lives as well. The world grew ever so smaller as this distraught woman spoke on.

The troubled woman went on to say that the people of this “small town” (she still didn’t know my sister’s connection) couldn’t have been more caring and supportive of her during this awful time in her life. That the entire community had such a large and loving heart. With tears of her own flowing now, she went on, “Still, I felt that the people must have blamed my husband for the crash. I don’t see how they couldn’t have. It was his job to get them safely to their destination.” My sister could sense the pain in those last words. This poor woman who had suffered so much loss was hurting over a shame that held no merit whatsoever.

God’s reason for putting the two women together became entirely transparent to my sister. “It still seems surreal even today, but I knew that this was no coincidence, that fate had intervened,” my sister said through misty eyes.

My sister revealed to this emotionally suffering woman the connection between them. “I believe that we were placed here together so that I could assure you that nothing but love, caring, and empathy was ever felt by the people of Swainsboro. We all suffered the loss together. Our hearts were aching along with your own.” As my sister continued to speak, some of the hurt in the grieving widow’s eyes subsided.

Our community lost four of its best on that sad day so many years ago, and we will always hold them dear in our hearts. We all lost a part of ourselves through that tragedy. Although they have left this realm, they will forever be remembered by those of us who knew them and those who still love them today.

We may be a small town, but we have a huge heart. As a small town, we must set an example for a world that grows ever smaller. The smaller that our world becomes, the more we must rely on each other. It’s our people that make our little town so big.

Dedicated to “Little Don” and his fellow travelers. When we meet up yonder…

– Mike Braswell

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