To say the State of West Virginia has had a rough couple of days would be a massive understatement.
To make a long and extremely depressing story somewhat shorter, suffice it to say we received record rainfall amounts across much of the state, and as a result we had record flooding.
This is just a glimpse of the widespread destruction and devastation that struck our state. Over twenty lives have been lost. Homes were completely wiped out, people have been displaced and are staying in shelters, and everything has been just generally awful in every imaginable way.
It’s the type of situation that you think only happens in “other” places, to “other” people, but in reality, it happened all around us. Small communities that we grew up in, that we have vacationed in or simply just driven through on a regular basis have been reduced to so much stinking, muddy, condemned rubble.
We escaped damage, thanks be to God. Our driveway washed out and there a little water in the low spots of our basement that seeped in through the walls, but that’s it.
But this post isn’t about that.
What I have witnessed over the past few days, besides destruction and loss and devastation, is something I forgot about. It’s something that is special about this place I live, this place which I catch myself holding in disdain from time to time. It’s easy to look around, especially in small towns (which is really all WV has), and see all of the stereotypical things that people associate with our state. As a lifelong resident, I find myself frustrated at times with the small town mentality, the fear of the unknown, and the unwillingness to change. I lament the poor school systems, and even sometimes wish I could live somewhere else–anywhere else, where the people weren’t so backward and trapped in the past.
And so I forgot.
I forgot that any state is basically just geography, just a place, the boundaries of which were drawn out politically a hundred or so years ago. The boundaries and shape of a state don’t define its personality any more than a simple snapshot of your face can define your personality. A state–this state–is defined by the people who live in it. We, like all humans, have our flaws. We may be backward and fearful of change. We may stick obstinately to our small town ways, even in the face of these global times. Yes, we do have a drug problem here that has arguably reached epidemic status. We are hicks, and some of us are rednecks, and we may sound funny to you when we speak, and yes, we are hillbillies.
But we are strong.
Like everyone else, along with our faults come an array of qualities that shame the rest of the world. Over these past few days, I have seen people rally together in a way that I never even knew was possible. Shelters were set up and donations were pouring in before some people had even been rescued from their homes. People have taken in complete strangers right into their homes. We are a poor state, and I know some of the people who have given had little to give, but donations have literally rolled into all of the shelters and staging points.
The National Guard is here, but they can’t keep up with us.
In the midst of this disaster, I am reminded of what this state, at its heart, truly is. It’s people who take up for each other, and help their neighbor, and give of themselves, even when they have little to give. The heart of a Mountaineer is as large as the mountains we call home. Some of the people who have been on tv have had some missing teeth, and horrible grammar, and maybe they didn’t really look like the type of person you would associate with a “good” person, but that’s just what they are. This has reminded me that people are not defined by how they sound or how they look, but rather by their actions. And the actions of my neighbors over the past few days have served to remind me that it’s okay to be who I am, and it’s okay to be from where I’m from. It’s okay to be a hillbilly.
In fact, it’s freaking awesome.