My heart breaks for my hometown today.
You've probably heard of the insanity that transpired in Waco yesterday. Biker gangs opened fire in a restaurant in a well frequented shopping area in what appears to have been an orchestrated plan. It sounds crazy to read out loud: biker gangs. This isn't a series on FX--this is the town I grew up in, the place my parents chose to make a home.
To the outside world, Waco doesn't have a sterling reputation to begin with. I can't tell you how many dozens of times, upon meeting people for the very first time, I'm inundated with Branch Davidian jokes. Or interrogated about Baylor Basketball... basically been the focus of someone's mock concern due to having grown up in what was obviously such a terrible part of the world.
"Ooooh (exaggerated side-eye), Waco, huh?"
"Didn't one of your basketball players kill a teammate?"
"You're not in that cult, are you?"
I don't have a reasonable explanation for what happened yesterday. It's heinous, what happened. I am dumbfounded, that in this day and age, so much hate exists at all, much less for something as frivolous as a turf war. My brother is a policeman back home, and every single time a disaster like this goes down--of any magnitude--I hold my breath as I stare at news tickers and attempt to seem casual as I check in with my family. He's defending the people of my beloved hometown (near it anyway), and when situations like this arise, my anger level skyrockets. Being 700 miles away doesn't help my cause.
While I can't explain the senselessness of incidents like yesterday's, I do, however, get really tired of people instantly labeling a place as "BAD." Tragedy happen everywhere, every day--the difference is, people have come to expect terrible things to happen in large cities:
- Remember that bombing in Olympic Park in Atlanta back in '96? I mean, I remember it, but my first thought of Atlanta falls in line somewhere with the Braves or Falcons, and Coca-Cola and Chick-Fil-A and godawful traffic.
- When I think of Boston, I don't instantaneously think of the marathon bombings, even in spite of the recent sentencing. I envision how richly historic the city is, with all of the universities and landmarks... and how I can't wait to visit later this year.
- When I envision Oklahoma City, I don't immediately think of Timothy McVeigh. Oddly enough, I think of tornadoes and small-town life and all of the amazingly friendly people I met in college who were Okies.
- Perhaps the most debatable example--when I think of DC and NYC, I don't immediately think of 9/11 (and if you did, I wouldn't be surprised)--I am reminded of monuments and museums, shopping and shows, politicos and bustle... and how much fun I've had in both of these cities.
I realize much of this can be attributed to the size of these locations--not many people know about Waco, if you haven't passed through, spent time there, or know someone there. It's human nature to attribute what you know to what you've heard. The closest comparison to be made is that of Columbine or Sandy Hook--I couldn't tell you one thing about either of those places other than the tragedies they've faced at the hands of delirious gunmen.
I'm here to tell you that Waco? Is a pretty incredible place.
Kids grow up with a respect for land and country, a heartfelt connection to their roots. I often liken my childhood to a Rockwell painting--everyone knows everyone (or seems to) in Waco. We were raised with a strong sense of valuing and respecting our elders--and veterans and servicemen and women--and their stories. Waco was where my faith was planted and bloomed. And now, every time I return home, there are a dozen new causes that have sprouted--people everywhere are just yearning to help their fellow man. School rivalries run deep, but the respect is there, all the same. It's rather easy to make a name for yourself in Waco, to use it as a platform to dive into this big crazy world. Yes, I speak from experience.
The size is ideal--just about 200,000 people tucked halfway between Dallas and Austin. There is an abundant medical field, a fabulous university (not biased at all), lots of unique shopping, some of the best Mexican food known to man, my favorite grocery store in the world, and tons of history. And it's home to Joanna & Chip Gaines, as if you didn't know. Dr. Pepper was founded in Waco. The city is home to lots of pro athletes (and former athletes). Several musicians and actors make their homes here. It's an incredible town--as a 22-year-old, I couldn't wait to get out--as young adults are wont to do--but now that I call Nashville home, I ache for the sweet simplicities and familiarities of Waco in a way I never anticipated.
It's beautiful, it's authentic, it'll always clutch a substantial piece of my heart. Waco isn't a sum of its events--it has grown by leaps and bounds from when I was young--in every way imaginable. I daresay it has overcome the many shadows cast over it due to a handful of selfish souls. And I have every faith it'll rise above this tragedy as well.