We are neighbors.
When the city of Monmouth needed help to put out a massive fire at the Wells Pet Food plant, this past Sunday, communities from forty miles around us came running to lend a hand. When, earlier this year, Galesburg’s O. T. Johnson department store building burned, fire departments from those same cities raced to the site to help. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people from all over the region -- all over the country -- gathered their energies, gathered supplies, and raced southward to do what they could for those who bore the brunt of the storm’s wrath. This is not unusual. In times of crisis, good people drop what they’re doing and come to the aid of others. Anybody who has ever watched old western movies, or “Little House on the Prairie”, or countless other such forms of entertainment knows, when the neighbor’s barn is lit up, everybody joins the bucket brigade. We all know that, there but for the grace of the angels, goes our own barn. We help because we hope.
All our surrounding communities have other virtues, as well, independent of their responses to crisis. For me, though, life in Monmouth beats out life in every other town I’ve been lucky enough to sample. Among other things, it has the coolest little fair -- the Prime Beef Festival -- every September, and a small-town parade with wit and a rather large degree of participation for such a small-ish community. This doesn’t mean that Monmouth is the only place anybody should live. Some of my best friends live outside this city’s limits, and they’re very happy, thank you very much. Knowing their personal preferences, I would not expect them to find life in my town suitable to their needs and wants. And, quite frankly, if everybody moved here, I might feel compelled to leave. I love y’all, but let’s be serious. One of the reasons I like this place is because it’s so distant from the hustle and bustle of big city life. Those who have to have instant access to a wild and wooly night life may keep it.
Still, around here we get along fine because we not only have common interests, we have common ground -- literally. The black, loamy earth beneath those soybeans, the clay beneath the foundations of our houses, the limestone coloring the banks of the river yellow, all bind us together as one people of one land. We see each other come across that ground, and we rise to greet each other.
Yes, we have our differences, our rivalries. Sometimes one of us goes all high and mighty about the other towns’ spending habits or business interests. We have a bronze turkey, now in a display case, which once was stolen by one of your spies. Heaven forfend somebody puts a nudie bar on the outskirts of a city to bring in fresh money from the river, drawing business away from downstream. No way would we send our kids to your school. So. There. But, beneath all that is the recognition that we can not live without some play back and forth. Healthy, enthusiastic, friendly competition makes us strong. When one of us is strong, that bolsters the rest of us. If one of us were to fail, to die away, the rest of us would long suffer, as well.
The key to our surviving hard times comes from being willing to step up and do what we can, without waiting to hear from some domed office and meeting building far away. The folks in Springfield have no clue as to whether or not I need a new front porch after a storm threw another tree on my house, and neither do they really care. The people we sent to Washington, D. C. are fairly clueless as to why Biloxi now needs fewer mobile homes and more power tools. It’s the guy who gets his hands dirty working next to us who understands.
Recovery isn’t about governments quickly sending us a check to help us out, it’s about people standing up and lending a hand. Households, churches, districts, towns, cities, states are made up of individuals. We are each one of us the key to survival, but not alone. We need each other.
We are neighbors.
We are family.