On the crisp, ever-so-green March morning that I write this, birds flutter about preparing to build nests, their songs filling the air. Occasionally spring frogs and wood ducks break in with their calls and mating songs.
The redbuds have exploded on the hills, and jonquils punctuate every yard, field and creek bank with splashes of golden yellow that can only be rivaled by the forsythia, which is the tallest, most profuse growth I have ever seen.
It is hard to believe that only a couple of hills and three miles away the devastation begins. Our town of West Liberty and two farming communities are totally destroyed and lying in rubble that looks like a bomb has gone off or a battlefield has sprung up.
The entire town of West Liberty is being hauled away in big long trucks. The Red Cross, FEMA, National Guard and hundreds of volunteers fill the town. Volunteer organizations such as the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Samaritan's Purse, www.BillyGraham.com., Jewish Charities and Muslim Relief, to name a few, have come to help. My eyes mist with tears to see how much people have cared, to see the efforts they have made to help us.
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I cry because so many of my friends are now displaced. They have no homes to go to; they have lost everything. They have anxiety attacks at night when they remember their horrifying experiences: the sound of the wind and their homes being torn apart, the suction on their bodies and their glasses being torn from their faces.
They speak of extreme loneliness. Many have had to relocate, to give up their pets. Some are living in campers or the one or two rooms they have left standing. Many had to live several days in the remains of their houses without electricity, heat, water or cooking facilities. Others have moved in with friends, relatives or neighbors to share already-crowded homes. Many are senior citizens. Those who are young or middle aged can begin again because time is on their side. How do the elderly begin again?
Our routines are totally different. For example, the U.S. mail boxes from the post office are lined up against the wall of the IGA. There are mobile units for everything: banks, county offices, food, supplies and services. Truckloads of water, cleaning supplies and clothing keep rolling in.
Such devastation and beauty side by side.
All of us share a communal depression. We all speak of feeling blue as the stories of those who have lost so much come to us from tight lips and pale faces.
Many farmers barely recognize their own farms. With houses and barns gone, fences and feed blown away, farm animals dead, injured or sold, and timber destroyed, their years of hard work are gone.
Other workers have no job to go to, and no paycheck coming.
Those of us who were not hit speak of our guilty feelings because we were spared. We are lucky, not blessed, because we know God does not punish. Random acts of nature are just that: random.
New words have entered our daily vocabulary. We speak of future storm shelters and wonder where the money is going to come from to build them. Now that we have had these devastating tornadoes, we feel certain they will come again. We have fears we have never had before. We must be prepared the next time.
We know the only possible safe place is a hole in the ground but it is our strength that keeps us going and gives us a feeling of security and hope for the future. Fortunately, Eastern Kentuckians have always had plenty of that.
The things we have always held dear, we still hold dear: home, family, friends, religious belief and our traditions. Here in the mountains, we have always cared for our own; that is why we never had homeless shelters. Now we realize that we are part of a greater community having that same sense of values.
We take our strength from these enduring hills; from the beauty around us; from the love of our friends, neighbors, families, and from those who have helped us and continue to so generously.
Perhaps the fences and mountains are not as high as we had thought, and we are all part of the brotherhood of man.