There are no words which can describe the incredible destruction of the past days. There are no words which can describe the loss of life. There are no words which can describe the loss of homes. There are no words which can describe the horror of families trapped in their homes while the flood waters rushed through towns and small communities throughout the mountains.
And while this past week has taken a toll on the people of the mountains, a proud and resilient people, the people of the region will never abandon the Appalachian tradition of neighbors helping neighbors. To echo the words of Ronald Reagan, “Our American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor has always been one of our greatest strengths and most noble traditions.” Even amid so much suffering, those simple words ring loudly throughout the mountains and have been on display everywhere.
Even before the rain ended or before the flood waters began to recede, the people of the mountains rallied and began the incredible task of neighbors helping neighbors. Neighbors rescued neighbors, neighbors clothed neighbors, neighbors sheltered neighbors, and neighbors loved neighbors. The response of neighbors helping neighbors, a response ingrained in the Appalachian tradition, was louder than the thunder of the rain that brought the flood waters.
A poem written by Edgar A. Guest, known as the People’s poet, best describes the people of the region, the people of Appalachia. The poem is entitled the “Kindly Neighbor.”
I have a kindly neighbor, one who stands
Beside my gate and chats with me awhile,
Gives me the glory of his radiant smile
And comes at times to help with willing hands.
No station high or rank this man commands,
He, too, must trudge, as I, the long day’s mile;
And yet, devoid of pomp or gaudy style,
He has worth exceeding stocks or lands.
To him I go when sorrows at my door,
On him I lean when burdens come my way,
Together oft we talk our trials o’er
And there is warmth in each good night we say.
For those who have labored side by side as neighbors helping neighbors these many days, exhausting days, there are blessings for each of us, blessings which are showered upon us as abundant as the rain which brought the floods, blessing from above as we set about the tasks that will restore our Appalachian region one hour, one day, one week and however long it will take.
And for those who have finished each day of neighbor helping neighbor, there is a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that tomorrow, the people of Appalachia will be one day closer to the thousands of days which lie ahead, days of shoveling mud out of homes, rebuilding roads and bridges, days of neighbors helping neighbors, neighbors loving neighbors.
As for me, each day as I have finished the tasks at hand, I have returned to the safety of shelter where I sit and pray and shed tears having witnessed so many neighbors helping neighbors, neighbors who in the words of Edgar A. Guest, “come at times to help with willing hand.” These willing and helping hands are in the finest Appalachian tradition of neighbors helping neighbors, a tradition which was handed down to each of us with that simple command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 (NIV).
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent, federal prosecutor, and a volunteer at the David School in David, Kentucky, has traveled the back roads of the mountains for more than thirty years and considers himself an adopted son of the Appalachian region. Other of Mark’s columns and Liberty prints are available at www.fivesmoothstonesky.com.