Remembering West: 4/17/2013
I can vividly remember where I was: walking out of Contracts class around 8:00 PM, seeing that I had several text messages from my cousin Rachal who urgently questioned whether my family was okay. I had no idea what she was talking about. Then, I checked the news and found that my hometown of barely 2,800 people had been stricken with disaster.
Like so many others, I'll never forget those images: the video of the explosion, the aerial photos of all the homes ablaze, and the dozens of first responders trying to render aid. When the smoke cleared, the explosion had taken 15 lives, injured 200 others, destroyed 120 homes, and irreparably damaged the town's nursing home, intermediate school, middle school, and high school. It is now 3 years later and the town is still recovering, a testament to small-town virtues of resilience and perseverance.
Every April 17th, my heart aches, and it probably will for many years to come. The best way to ease the pain will be working towards making sure tragedies such as these never happen again. Unfortunately, it looks like little has been done to affect that change.
Much as with any sort of tragedy, it's difficult for those not affected to fully appreciate its true impact. That's okay. When I tell people where I'm from, they usually say, "Oh, the town with the explosion?" I'm going to start replying, "No, it's the town with the strong sense of community that persevered through an explosion."
Admittedly, growing up in a small farming town wasn't the most hospitable environment for an oddball like me. After I had moved away, the tragedy brought to the forefront many virtues that the town of West cherishes: community, pride, determination, hard work, and perseverance. It made me realize that as rough as it was to grow up as a "weird kid" in rural Texas, it was worth it. I'm now proud to say I'm from West, Texas.
In the end, there's no such thing as "New York values" or even "small-town values." These are American values. We simply learn different ones at various places and times throughout our lives.
Though the pain was felt by all, my family fared better than most that day. In memory and honor of the heroic first responders who laid down their lives in service to their community, let's work to make sure no other small towns have to face the same tragedy. Let the pain of the past be motivation for working together for a better future.