*Two years ago today tragedy struck the great state of WV. It wasn't the first time and it likely will not be the last, but this particular event grabbed the attention of the entire nation and beyond. Below is the post I wrote a week after the explosion. This post brought so many emails, comments and even phone calls. I was shocked and humbled by the outpouring of support and caring. While this is not an anniversary worthy of celebration, it is a date that should never be forgotten, and that is why I'm sharing this story with you once again. In honor of those who perished and the loved ones left behind.*
Sometimes we are ridiculed by national media. On television we are often represented as 'backwoods' and 'redneck'. Unless you happen to have actually visited here and gotten to experience firsthand our gorgeous mountain views and the friendly, caring and often generous-to-a-fault folks who call this place home, it's possible that your perception of us is less than flattering.
But try for a moment to see us the way that I, as a proud West Virginian, see us.
Most of us like to keep it simple. We like to work our land and let it provide for us. We plant vegetable gardens to feed our families and we can and freeze its bounty to help us through the winter months. Not because we can't afford to buy groceries, because in all honesty it is typically less costly to go to the store and purchase canned goods than it is to maintain a garden and put it up yourself. Goodness only knows it's also a lot less work. But we do it to teach our children the value of hard work and how to do what needs to be done if times get tough. We do it for the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, and because it just tastes better when you do it yourself. We do it to preserve a way of life.
We like to look out for each other. When there is an illness or death in the family you can pretty much count on so many cakes, casseroles and hams being brought in by your neighbors that you quickly run out of refrigerator space. But that's okay, because they'll lend you that, too.
Many of us do live in a rural setting. Funny thing is, it's usually by choice! We like to awaken to the sounds of birds singing and to gaze at a night sky so deep with stars that we are humbled to realize what a teeny, tiny speck we are in the grand scheme of things. You just can't do that where there are skyscrapers and streetlights.
But there are cities and city dwellers in WV, too. There are tall office buildings, high rise apartments, luxurious hotels. Charleston, our capital city, is busy and bustling through the work week; a little more laid back and relaxed on weekends. People enjoy walks along the Boulevard and they drink in the beauty of our majestic capitol building overlooking the Kanawha River.
And the very best part of WV is her people. From the suits in downtown office buildings to the uniforms that serve and protect; from blue jeans and hard hats to aprons and work gloves. We have a little of everything here in West Virginia, just like every other state in this great nation. But there is one commonality, one single thread that runs through us all, enabling us to be strong for each other; to come together as one when facing adversity: MOUNTAINEER PRIDE.
I'm not referring to the fans of WVU football and basketball, though they are diligent in their enthusiasm, too. I am looking at the bigger picture. I am talking about that little spot inside us all that burns with a fierce desire to prove to the world that we are more than the toothless, barefoot, hill-dwelling characters the sitcom writers create to depict us.
Last week West Virginians suffered a terrible tragedy when an explosion occurred in an underground coal mine in Raleigh County. There were 29 miners unaccounted for afterward, but rescue and recovery efforts were hampered by unsafe conditions for the mine rescue teams. It was soon discovered that most of the miners were killed instantly in the explosion, but there was some hope that four of the miners had been able to make it to one of the safe chambers. This entire state stood together as one, hoping and praying for a miracle for the four who were unaccounted for and attempting to comfort the families of those who already knew the fate of their loved ones. Sadly, that miracle did not come to pass. In the end, this great state lost 29 dedicated, hardworking sons; brothers; fathers; friends.
In the midst of all this, a small but annoying group of extremists (who choose to call themselves Christians but exhibit nothing Christian in their actions) decided to come to our great state to display their ignorance. I refuse to give them the attention they crave by putting their name in print here, or by repeating the nasty, hateful messages they carried with them for all to see, but trust me when I tell you that they know nothing of Christianity. They claim to serve God but contradict themselves by spouting hate and causing pain wherever they go.
Well, my fellow West Virginians decided that this group would not succeed in making more difficult the situation in which these miners' families already found themselves. They would not be subjected to the hate and ignorance while already dealing with the loss of their loved ones, many of whose bodies had not yet even been removed from the mine. Once again, West Virginia pride kicked into high gear and this little group of hate mongers was surrounded by a larger group of picketers bearing signs with messages of hope. Everywhere they went, this typically welcoming state saw to it that the welcome mat was pulled right out from under them. As it should have been.
And now we can go back to the business at hand: showing our love and support for one another during a difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are now with the rescue teams who must carry on with their grim duties in order for these families to have some sense of closure.
Yes, I am proud to be a Mountaineer, a hillbilly, whatever you want to call me. I am proud to belong to a place where people don't look the other way when trouble comes along, but instead band together to stare it down and send it packin'.
I am proud to be a West Virginian.