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Salonen: At graduation, we stopped to smell the roses

Roxane Salonen

The bundle of roses, pale in color with the lightest splash of pink, had been placed purposefully in a vase near the podium at Shanley High School's 2018 graduation. Unobtrusive in the context of a gymnasium filling up fast with black squared caps and flowing gowns, the bouquet may have been tossed off as a simple decoration, but for the gentle reminder: "These roses...in honor of Amanda Leininger."

Hearing this, my excitement for my own graduate paused momentarily as I stopped, in my mind, to smell the roses for Amanda.

I'd never met Amanda, nor seen her twirling about her yard in the summertime getting ready for another lemonade stand, nor dashing back inside later to practice her piano.

Like many, I didn't become acquainted with her until that cold day in December 2008, when learning of a sparkly, ash-blonde third-grader who'd been tragically taken by winter weather and a road rut that will eternally be one of our city's greatest regrets.

Though these details may have needed to be restated to collectively recall, my heart right now is more on Amanda's mother, someone I do know and have watched in awe over the past years.

I met Cynthia while working at the Downtown YMCA's playroom, where my youngest son and her youngest sons, twins, romped together as preschoolers. Both mothers of five children, we also belonged to the same church and school system.

So, the news hit me especially hard, and if not for illness, I'd have sung for Amanda's funeral.

Instead, I grieved at home, and later, brought a casserole to the family. Walking away that day, I felt the heaviness, and wondered how they'd possibly go on.

Though our same-aged daughters had been students at different parochial elementary schools, eventually, they'd have become classmates at Shanley, and possibly friends.

As I've watched my daughter pass through many special moments since, I've been acutely aware that I have not been able to share these with Cynthia.

And yet I've seen this family move with such amazing grace — at church while filling a pew, and at various school and sporting events. They've come with smiles, celebrating their other four children, and always showing kindness to those around them.

Life, harsh as it's been, has demanded the Leiningers go on, and they have, despite their inconceivable trial. In this, the rest of us have witnessed a remarkable gift of faith in a good and loving God.

At my godson's graduation party a few days after Shanley's commencement ceremony, a friend reminded me that even beautiful things that leave too quickly, like crabapple blossoms and sunsets, deserves our abiding appreciation.

He's right, and so now, each time I bend low to smell a rose, I will think of Amanda, and the treasure she remains to many.

Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. Email her at roxanebsalonen//roxanesalonen.com/

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