Seize the moment!

Ken Wolf
Ken Wolf
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December 11 was both a bad and good day for all of us in Western Kentucky. The bad part was the giant wedge tornado that destroyed much of the cities of Mayfield and Dawson Springs and did significant damage to Benton, Bowling Green, and across five states, causing the death of dozens of people.

The good part of December 11 was the widespread, immediate, and very genuine response to this unprecedented disaster from both sides of our emotionally divided nation.

President Biden called Governor Beshear three times in one day and quickly declared a state of emergency. Our solidly Republican Congressional delegation wrote the President to also urge him to help. And, as we have come to expect despite our political polarization, thousands of red and blue Kentuckians and Tennesseans immediately began to help their neighbors.

Shelters and food supplied by both public and private sources appeared within twelve hours. Generators were quickly installed so grocery stores could open. Electrical power was restored in Murray within forty hours, with neighbors helping neighbors, often in dark and dangerous places, to supply power and to do search and rescue operations, especially in the Mayfield candle factory, where many were rescued.

Two men from Louisville drove a truck here that was full of food and dog food to be passed out free.

Even though communications were spotty for several days, reporters from major networks showed up and reported our disaster with accuracy and without bias, at least as far as I could tell.

Families received calls from relatives and friends from across America, another sign of caring and compassion. One former student of mine, raised in the Purchase but now living in Chicago, offered to hire a truck to drive a load of generators to our region. A man in Benton offered grazing land for animals. An Iowa farmer offered stalls for horses.

Let this be who we are in America!

We have an opportunity here, a chance to seize and build upon the moment of mutual caring and compassion that we have seen demonstrated this past week.

I am realistic enough to know that it will not be long before our internet-and-media-enhanced partisan anger, lies, and name-calling will begin again, as we return to our mutual fortresses.

But maybe, just maybe, we could try hard to prolong this “Christmas truce,” in imitation of the famous truce at Christmas in 1914 between French and German soldiers who played soccer in “no-man’s land” for several hours on the Western Front during World War I.

Conditions might be right for such a truce, even from an economic perspective. Consider the fact that much state and federal money will be flowing into Western Kentucky over the next several years. It will take years to rebuild homes, businesses and government buildings throughout our region—and there will be many good jobs to be filled doing this work.

But there is something deeper and more significant in our current response to disaster. It is not just motivated by self-interest. There is a genuine spirituality in what we are seeing, and it may or may not have much to do with what we think of as religion.

Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross, the late author who many years ago studied our death industry (funerals, burials, and all that) in her famous book, The American Way of Death (1969) once wrote: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only when there is light from within.”

There is much light coming from within many people during these dark days. That light can give us hope in other areas of life. We can fan this light or put it out, as I put out the candles in my house once power was restored.

I recall watching the 1950s TV show sponsored by the Franciscan religious order that always ended with the following musical phrase: “If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world it would be.”

The Mayfield candle factory may be gone, but our light can still shine.

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Ken Wolf

Ken Wolf spent 40 years teaching European and World History, punctuated by several administrative chores, at Murray State University, retiring in 2008. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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