Out Here in the Middle
After Tornadoes, Kentucky Spirit Shines Through

A friend recently turned me on to the music of James McMurtry. His folk/blues style and tightly-crafted lyrics fit right into the wheel house of music I tend to enjoy. As with most new music I start following, McMurtry has one particular song I can’t get out of my head.

The song is called “Out Here in the Middle” and is McMurtry’s view of being from Middle America. With all our virtues and vices, the song is about … well … us.

The thing that makes McMurtry such a great song-writer is he weaves his lyrics in such a manner that the listener is never really sure how he feels about us.

I suspect people like myself — that is, people that revel in being from out here in the middle — will put this song on their favorite playlist as an anthem to all that is right and good where we live. Not all will have the same reaction to the song. Those that despise their similar geographic lot in life probably listen and believe that McMurtry is mocking those of us in the former category.

The response to the recent tornadoes that ravaged Northern Kentucky is a testament to the merits of where we live.

In the days following the storm that rocked our region, people whose lives were ripped apart by the devastation told wonderful stories about how others came to their aid. In subdivisions many of us never knew existed, strangers showed up in droves to help people pick up what remained of their lives. A picture here and an article of clothing there.

The sounds of chainsaws and people whispering, “there but for the grace of God go I” filled the air as they worked to clear debris. Local businesses delivered food and water. People donated so much clothing and blankets that some relief centers ran out of space to store items.

On Sunday night following the tornadoes, it was announced that a fund had been set up at a local bank to assist in paying the funeral expenses of one victim. The next morning, people were standing in front of the bank waiting for it to open in order to donate.

It’s not that the government didn’t assist. It did. But no one in Northern Kentucky took it for granted that the government would be there. We took it on ourselves.

As horrible as the tornadoes were, the community’s response to them defined who we are. Northern Kentuckians supported each other in a way that only neighbors can — with dignity, empathy and a whole lot of elbow grease.

I listened to McMurtry’s song a lot as I composed this column. I’m still not sure what he was trying to say. But, it’s times like these when we should all be okay with being from “out here in the middle.” ■