Between the tragic bus accident, wildfires and tornadoes, 2016 was a very difficult and challenging time for the state of Tennessee. These unexpected events have changed many people’s lives and entire communities forever.
Clearly, the families who lost loved ones, those who lost their homes and/or businesses, and the survivors have a long road of healing ahead. They could never have imagined how one moment in time could change their lives in so many ways. Additionally, first responders, educators, medical personnel and countless others experienced serious trauma while helping at the scene and in its aftermath. They will likely feel the impact for the rest of their lives, too.
Additionally, thousands of volunteers gave blood, brought food and clothing, provided shelter, sat at the hospital, prayed with people and played with children as parents cared for an injured sibling. The list goes on.
Ordinary people put their differences aside and stepped up to accomplish the extraordinary for people in need.
People in Tennessee have a history of being there when needed. Thousands of volunteer soldiers from Tennessee played a prominent role during the War of 1812. Their commitment to serve was reinforced during the Mexican War when President Polk requested 2,600 men from each state to serve in the American Army. Within a week’s time, more than 30,000 Tennesseans responded to the call to arms. This overwhelming show of patriotism from Tennessee helped Texas win its sovereignty as a state. But it also earned our state its lasting nickname of “The Volunteer State.”
At the end of the day, we seem to understand that we really need each other. We realize that our possessions don't get us through the very difficult times. In reality, the hugs, the shoulders to cry on and the generous, unexpected gifts, sometimes from complete strangers, sustain us.
This week, many will gather with family and friends to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. For numerous families, however, the celebration will look and feel different. Some will mourn because of the unexpected loss of a loved one. Others will try to see past the vivid images in their mind of what they have seen and experienced because of the tragedies. Still others will struggle to make sense of it all.
Despite the horrific things we have endured this year, hopefully we have been reminded that we are all human beings. And we're all trying to figure out the complexities of what life hands to us. This holds true regardless of our address, education level, socio-economic status, skin color or political persuasion.
There are some things we can give each other that we can't purchase at a store. Being willing to step out of our comfort zone and develop real relationships within our community is a much more valuable gift. The gift of relationships has the potential to transform us all. It's especially true when we intentionally make the effort to invest in our community.
Recent events offer us a good starting point to show others how much we really care. Let’s take the opportunity to build on that.