by Ron Gregory
Tragedies often accompany holidays on the calendar and the period around Independence Day certainly brought its share of sorrow to West Virginia.
Not only can words not adquately describe the utter devastation caused by flooding in parts of the Mountain State, photographs worth a thousand words cannot do it either.
Unless one has walked the roads and byways of Clay, Clendenin, Elkview and dozens of other small communities, he or she has no idea of the damage caused. While those in the affected areas scurried to clean up and rebuild, their “can-do” nature at least took a brief departure.
Often, those visiting the flooded area could hear locals determined “to leave this place before it happens again.” That this was a once-in-1,000-year event did not cover the pain and suffering of the masses.
It is times such as these that public servants and volunteers often shine in leadership roles. Nobody can criticize even one of those who spent days and hours working to improve the situation. When a friend and I visited the Clendenin Volunteer Fire Department, two firemen were working just to clean mud off tools from a box that had been under water for days. In their condition, these vital tools were not usuable but noble volunteers worked to make them so.
In another corner, House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead showed signs of hard work on his clothing and in his eyes. While there is plenty of time to debate the wisdom of the Republican legislative agenda under Armstead’s leadership, I have never heard anyone describe the Speaker as anything less than a caring, compassionate man.
When tragedy strikes, there are no political agendas. Or at least there should not be.
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Pundits will debate, until at least the November election, the wisdom of Congressman Alex Mooney who decided to fly to the Middle East rather than attend to the flooding in his district. Mooney reluctantly admitted something his staff would not confirm: the congressman did not leave on his overseas junket until after word of the worst flooding in 1,000 years was well known.
In brief interviews (which this congressman thrives on), Mooney kept two major themes. One was some vague notion that his trip overseas helped in the battle against ISIS; and two appeared to be that he kept his commitment to fly out regardless of the hurting of his constituents.
Mooney kept talking about the conversations he allegedly had with military men overseas who told him of dire circumstances he could somehow help with. Yet, he consistently returned to his “commitment” talking points when any reporter asked him about the suffering of the people in his district.
Nobody is saying Mooney should ignore the military or fail to support the fighting men and women. What they are saying is that, when he knew disaster hit at home, he should have gotten on a plane to Charleston to provide immediate help. Was his overseas trip so vital to the military that they could not defend the nation if Mooney waited a couple of weeks to visit? Probably not.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, along with Congressman Evan Jenkins, worked tirelessly in their field with their staff to help those affected by the flood waters. Even this begs the question: even if Mooney the Marylander decided to go overseas rather to the scene of the tragedy, why did his staff not at least respond in large numbers to the flood zone?
On the second day Mooney returned to take in the flood damage, he appeared to be accompanied by his Charleston chief-of-staff and two staff members. One seemed to mostly be assigned to taking photos of the Congressman “helping” out.
Mooney, a Republican, is already fighting the image of an out-of-state carpetbagger who cares little about West Virginia. He did nothing during the flood to negate those worries.
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It was great to see cheerleaders from Mingo Central High School on the scene of the flooding in Kanawha County. They explained that their fellowship with fellow Cardinal Conference member Herbert Hoover High brought them a feeling of commitment to help their friends in need.
And the MCHS girls were going out of their way to help. While Hoover is located at Falling Rock some distance away, the team was assisting at the Clendenin Volunteer Fire Department on May Street downtown.
I have mentioned before that Mingo Countians, in their truest form, are among the most caring, compassionate people on earth. The cheerleaders are just the latest example of the Mingo spirit.
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And now that “Team Mingo” no longer exists, maybe we can highlight the good side of the people more and more.
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Another tragedy involved the loss of a one-year-old child in a drowning incident in Newtown, Mingo County.
The family was described in a state of shock as well they would be after this terrible event. No amount of study or understanding could help a parent understand the loss of a child, much less one this small.
Unbelievably, some on social media were quick to criticize the parents, saying they should have paid more attention to the little boy. Hogwash! Just as the case of the child falling into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, you and I know that even the most attentive parent cannot watch every movement of their children.
If parents could protect their children from every possible harm, nobody can name the parent who wouldn’t do so. I do not know this family but I’m certain Jeremy Ooten is truthful in describing how he and others feel about their loss. Jeremy Ooten, the boy’s father, called the la “pretty much my everything.”
I often point out that there is often no rhymn nor reason to events that occur. If the most prophetic preacher can explain why God would remove this one-year-old from his family, they are seeing the “mind of God” which cannot be seen. Am I condemning God for the boy’s death? Certainly not. But neither should anyone criticize the boy’s family.
I am a father and grandfather. I know how quickly something pleasant can change to a tragedy or almost-tragedy. I realize that no matter how diligent a parent is, they are not all-seeing, all-knowing, ever-present.
I join the good people of Mingo and beyond in mourning for this boy and his family. If any of us could turn the page back to the moments before the tragedy happened, we would. In this case, we cannot.
This family deserves our concern, our compassion, our support and our high hope that they will somehow find comfort in a desperate time. It is our job to support them and help them believe in that comfort. God is all-powerful and Romans 8:28 is accurate.
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In times such as this, mere political gossip seems silly and misplaced. While we will return to it next week, please take what would be my normal sarcastic lines and fix your minds on those suffering from the flood and the loss of this little boy. Your comments and story ideas are always welcome. Use my email listed or call my cell, 304-533-5185.