"And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"
"Paradise" by John Prine
Every day it seems there is another disaster. From hurricanes to earthquakes, from suicide bombs to car wrecks to the more recent coal mine explosion in West Virginia it is one horrible event after another. I can hardly watch the news anymore for the empty, sad feeling it leaves me with throughout the evening.
On the curb, at the house next door stands about a dozen trash bags and boxes filled with the remnants of a life I never knew. An elderly woman lived there but a few days ago. I had chatted with her briefly a few times whenever we were both outside doing some yard work, or perhaps checking the mail. Our dogs enjoyed running up and down the fence line barking at each other.
And now she is gone, I suppose.
A few days ago, or maybe a week, my wife mentioned that she hadn't seen the old lady in awhile, and I couldn't recall seeing her either in several days. We both said we hoped everything was alright, but carried on about our business. What could we do? What do you do in those circumstances? A few days later I noticed her trash was out, several days early. I knew something must have happened. I wanted to walk over and check on her, but didn't. I said a little prayer and hoped it was nothing serious.
And now more bags sit on the curb. I pass by them on my daily walks and notice them with care. They are filled with glass bottles, stacks of papers and worn out clothes – remnants of a life; leftovers. I don't know whether she has passed on, or has simply moved to a nursing home. I suspect it is the former. I don't know how to find out. I am not sure exactly why I care. I certainly didn't know her. The few times we chatted we talked only in the superficial – about the weather, and how nice it was the city would come to pick up our raked leaves. I must confess on occasion when I would come home from a long day and see her in the yard I would busy my eyes elsewhere and walk stiffly to the house as to avoid any awkward conversation. Now I'll never see her again. There are no more chances to chat.
All of this makes me immensely sad in a way I can't quite explain.
I don't know any coal miners either. West Virginia is a place I've gone to for quick ski trips. I've never stayed. I've never lingered. An old friend from college is from that state, but I couldn't say where at exactly. The faces of family members that show up on the television screen don't bring any particular recognition either, there just more faces in a world full of them. Yet they too make me quite sad.
Carl Bancoff knows about sadness, he knows about tragedy, and yes, he knows about coal mines. His family was from a mining town in western Pennsylvania. A town that found more than its share of hard times. He's written a song about the recent West Virginian disaster called "Angels Love Coal Mines." It is written from a child's perspective. A child who has lost her father because Angel's love coal mines so much they take their daddys with them.
It is a gorgeous, lovely song, and yes, sad too.
It is available for free on his website. It a world filled with so much disaster, it is a fine thing to find something so beautiful.