Over the years I have filled two thick notebooks from our April vacations in "Alabama the beautiful."
Yes, we have relaxed on their sugar-white sands. But we have also spent a great deal of time going into the communities and meeting and talking with the people.
What have we learned? Aside from the beauty of Alabama's waters and lands and skies, that state is well stocked with friendly people of strong and generous spirit.
Now on TV, after the tornadic storms, I am hearing news anchors and reporters speak of these people as if they and their land cannot recover; they speak as if the brunt of the recovery will depend on donations and federal government and all sorts of other outside help.
The news is missing something. I don't mean to diminish the depth of the disaster and the need for coordinated help from a government, which after all operates with money from its own citizens, including Alabamans... But these are people who have always rushed to help themselves and each other and even neighboring states. They have been and will continue to be sustained by their own strength of spirit and their innate sense of neighborly ethic.
I thought about that today as I read a Washington Post story---dateline Tuscaloosa, ALA. The writer quoted the words of a Matt Bell of DeKalb County, responding to a question about public assistance. Bell, who was helping neighbors look for documents and other items in the debris, shrugged and told the reporter:
"That's not really in the mind-set of people here. People here take care of each other; you see perfect strangers helping. We're not going to turn it (help) away, but if we need to set up tents, start a fire, fish and hunt, we'll do that..."
Bell then continued to focus on his work with others in a field that contained shredded remains of their homes. I could only think of the Alabama peoples' response to Hurricane Ivan. Months after the storm, before our usual spring visits, we made an unscheduled trip to that state to see how the people were faring. Amazingly well, we could see; their progress was astonishing.
Business groups, school groups, neighborhood groups, staffs of libraries and local museums... all had banded together in the clean-up; even including removing debris from a beautiful freshwater lake and nails from the beaches.
A perfect example of the Alabama attitude was reflected in what a Chamber of Commerce executive told me with pride:
"We returned to what was left of our homes and our businesses, and we were stunned... Then we looked up the highway and saw a great caravan of trucks and people and large equipment... electric workers, tree workers, excavators, trash haulers and more...
"We looked at each and said, 'If all these people are coming to help, we might as well get off our butts and roll up our sleeves and start helping ourselves... It was an immediate contagion; we all seemed to be saying the same... We were working together and moving ahead far faster than we would have thought possible; we put down our heads and worked!"
Wherever we went we could see the result; there were NO people sitting on lawns with signs on which had been written "Uncle Sam, when are you cleaning the debris from our yards?" Lord knows we had seen plenty of that in other places.
That's Alabama; that's the spirit of its people. I pray for them all in the struggle ahead, but I also have faith they will triumph and go on with their lives... faster than some would think possible.