“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Almost 18 months after one of the deadliest tornadoes in history cut a swath through the heart of Joplin, Mo., I discovered these words of wisdom from Emerson, a writer I have long admired. They leapt off a page of copy I was reading, grabbing my attention.
I could have used the poet’s sage advice in the dark days that followed May 22, 2011. Fortunately, my newspaper and my town — minus the prose — were a testament to Emerson’s words.
Here in southwest Missouri, we call it pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. I don’t know what it’s called on the East Coast, but I’ll bet it’s equally descriptive. After all, New York City had its heart shattered in 2001, and survived the unthinkable. Now Hurricane Sandy has wreaked havoc, claiming lives, homes and power, leaving chaos and confusion in its wake.
I met Cliff Richner, co-publisher of the Heralds, in September at a newspaper conference in Atlanta, where I had the opportunity to tell Joplin’s story. He was one of the first to offer a hand when I shakily stepped down from the stage. Tears were streaming down my face. Speaking about the tornado’s devastation always takes me back to the horrible night that I stood in the newsroom, talking to no one in particular, asking what I was supposed to do next.
I immediately recognized that same angst in Cliff’s voice when he called me last week. The strain of fatigue, worry and frustration told the story before he did. Many of his employees weren’t sure if their homes would be livable. Those who still had homes didn’t have power. They lost vehicles. Cold weather was bearing down on them.
And then, of course, there are the Heralds’ readers. Thousands and thousands of them were suffering. The job of Cliff’s newspapers goes beyond just informing. They are the voice for those who have none.
I am honored that Cliff asked for Joplin’s voice to help reinforce the message that Long Island isn’t alone in this. Nor are New Jersey or New York.