There are certain things I simply cannot imagine.
I cannot imagine the vast infinite capacity of the universe. I cannot imagine the heart behind the greed and avarice that seems to motivate many of the wealthiest individuals of our society. I cannot imagine the daily suffering endured by most who live a meager life of subsistence and suffering in the Third World.
And I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child… let alone an entire generation of them.
Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the New London School Explosion, one of the largest school disasters in the history of the world.
More than three hundred children and school staffers perished as a result of a natural gas explosion, with many never fully recovering in mind and spirit from the events of that dark day.
In the course of my regular duties with this newspaper, the various stories and remembrances of March 18, 1937 have seldom been far from my thoughts.
Though I have not written every word that has crossed our pages, part of my duties does involve a close reading of such. Thus, the many recollections and details of the London School Explosion have remained a sullen spectre that has loomed large in my consciousness over these last few weeks.
One local resident I spoke with mentioned to me that much of the emotional trauma he experienced as a youngster living in the area at the time was set aside due to another tragedy, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entrance in World War II.
That the war, and the emerging revelation of the events of the Holocaust, soon pushed the loss aside.
Verily, this kind of pain can fester beneath the surface of a community for a long time. I understand that it took decades for the survivors to finally start coming together in a formal capacity. I recall one survivor said that it was just easier to push it out of the mind and soldier on ahead, to focus on the task at hand and not dwell upon the pain of the past.
I can empathize with this, albeit to a very small degree.
With the writing, editing, and proofreading process that goes on up here at the Henderson Daily News, I am forced to think about the meaning behind the words. But I’m not a machine.
I can’t read a line that says upwards of 300 children died in an explosion without thinking about the real human cost behind such a number. The agony of every parent and grandparent, the heartache of every sibling and friend, and how this loss has shaped those who came after.
I can’t read about how the school superintendent was forced to resign amid rumors of a possible lynching (even as he himself lost a son) without imagining the shame that remained with him for the rest of his days, combined with the loss of his own child. Guilt, that something could’ve been different.
I can’t read about the young reporter named Cronkite (who would someday tell a nation that their president had been shot) arriving at the scene, without visualizing the carnage that he said would never be matched, even over his long career as a journalist on the highest stage in our national media.
300 young people, teachers and staff all, were taken from us; not to mention the number of those who later left the area, the dark shadow of grief too much for them to bear. A veritable “lost generation” so to speak. It haunts my soul.
Every year about this time, as the usual reunions and observances begin to return to our local news cycle. Every year I endure the same nightmares, limitless loopings of grainy newsreels.
The broken rubble, gaunt black oil-stained men with hollow expressions, peeling back rocks with their wide palms and long gnarled fingers. Straining toward hope, hopes soon to be dashed with every lifeless child’s body.
These things are simply a part of growing up in Rusk County. There are certain things you just have to know and deal with if you’re going to live here for any amount of time.
It’s like a bleeding wound of the spirit, which is passed down from one generation to the next. It scabs over for a time, long enough for the years to move along, and the sharpness of the injury to dull with age.
But I think it is also a wound that never truly heals.