April 05, 2020

Palm Sunday

This is a heavy day for me for several reasons. First is the nature of the day itself, which commemorates Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem in the days leading up to his crucifixion and death. The day was triumphant, with blessings and shouts of hosanna...but we know what happens five days later.

Then there's the date itself. Ten years ago today, 29 coal miners were killed in Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine. Subsequent investigations, like this one written by my then co-worker Beth Spence, found a deliberate pattern at the company of evading mine safety regulations. The company no longer exists and its CEO spent a year in federal prison, although that's cold comfort to the friends and families of those who died.

I was literally on the far side of the world attending a karate seminar in Okinawa when I got the word. It felt so strange to be that far away at such a time, not that I could have done anything about it.

Finally, the holy day if not the date marks another sad loss for West Virginia and the world. It was on Palm Sunday in 1979, (April 8th to be exact, Easter being a movable feast) that Breece Pancake, in my opinion the state's greatest writer killed himself in Charlottesville.

He was from my home town of Milton and we had some family connections. At the time, I was working at the town library with his mother Helen. I remember going to work to pretend to clean the library that Sunday and finding main librarian Toney Reese there, visibly upset.

I'd work with Helen every Tuesday night and every other Saturday for the next six years and we grew very close over that time. It was sad but still a privilege watching his book of short stories come together and take off. It hasn't landed yet.

If nothing else, this day is a reminder of how quickly and drastically things can change...although we probably didn't need to be reminded of that today.

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