The nation spent Wednesday riveted by a live video feed of BP’s latest attempt to stop the geyser of oil infiltrating the Gulf of Mexico, but in Louisiana, sights were set on the heavens as residents gathered at First Baptist Church of Chalmette to pray. One by one, they stood and asked God for protection, guidance, comfort, and mercy. At times, they clung together so closely that they evoked images of the delicate reeds that are now in danger – frail, but not weak; bent, but not broken. Never, ever broken.
Black ribbons fluttered in the breeze as a homemade pinwheel bearing 29 names turned slowly, lending a splash of color to an otherwise overcast day in southern West Virginia. Here, residents are still coming to grips with the state’s worst mining disaster in more than two decades. Part of that process continued Sunday, when President Obama spoke at a eulogy for the 29 coal miners who died in the accident.
Keep hope. Keep faith. Keep strong. Keep going. It is that strength of spirit to which this 18-family community, nestled within the hills of south-central Kentucky, is clinging as the church struggles to accept the loss of nearly a tenth of its members. The crash, which cost 11 lives, was believed to be the deadliest motor vehicle accident in Kentucky since 1988.
In a city that’s known far too much sorrow over the past few years, finally there is a reason to smile again. Still, it may be a long time before the city comes down from this high. As one reveler was heard saying in the French Quarter Sunday night: “Work? There’s no work tomorrow. It’s All Saint’s Day!”
Delays are common, but this may be the first time a football game has pre-empted a trial, says Scott Vowell, presiding judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit for Jefferson County in Alabama. Of course, he’s heard a myriad of other excuses over the years. Funerals. Illnesses. The dog ate my briefcase. The best was the time an attorney asked for a delay so he could join an evangelical rock band and a troupe of Russian ballerinas on a tour of England.
You should probably leave the rocket scientist jokes at home when visiting Huntsville, Ala. The chances are good (1 in 12, in fact) you’ll meet one here. In a state beset with educational challenges, this mid-size city (pop. 396,000) is an anomaly, a figurative brain soup where intellectual capital is a commodity and innovation is the driving force behind economic recovery and future success.
In many places, it will end a decades-old culture of silence. People here don’t like to remember the nights of church bombings and explosions; the sound of rifles being loaded in the dark as citizens patrolled sidewalks and sanctuaries, trying to stem the violence. They don’t like to remember the fear and distrust – between blacks and whites, but also among themselves.
And then, suddenly, it all came together – why they’d needed to be here so much, why they’d endured the arduous trek just to squint at a distant screen. As they reached the foot of the Washington Monument, so starkly white against a perfect blue sky, encircled by American flags, another sight resonated even more deeply: a rainbow of people of every size, race, and age standing together.
As one of the adults traveling this week from Selma to the nation’s capital with a group from Knox Elementary School, she brings different emotions and motivations than the idealistic young students, all clad in their new winter clothing and visions of a race-free America. For her and many of the other adults, this is a spiritual journey, both an intensely personal moment and a time to celebrate what they and their forebears suffered and accomplished, as well as to see the opportunities facing a new generation.