THE SCENES of grief and mourning played out these past few days in the little West Virginia towns of Willow Run, Belmont and St. Mary's are common enough following tragedies of mass death. The 51 men who died last Thursday in the scaffold collapse inside a power plant under construction are now laid to rest in the cemeteries of the local communities. But however familiar the post-tragedy funerals may be to those who have watched the net-work coverage or read the natioanl news stories, it is worth pausing and paying tribute to the special kind of resilience and courage displayed by so many of the survivors.
We are thinking particularly of Lee Steele. He lost 10 members of his family: four sons, a brother, two brothers-in-law and three nephews. Those who counsel survivors of accident victims speak of "a grief reaction" that can lead in any number of directions, from anger to prolonged depression. Mr. Steele offered the example of another kind of reaction: "I just believe in God," he told a reporter. "He'll never put more on me that I can bear. He gets me through the rough spots, but it's hard."
Anyone who visits the mountain communities of Appalachia cannot help meeting citizens like Lee Steele who have a quiet but vibrant kind of religious faith. It is less concerned with dogmas and creed than with personal fidelity to what is called "the ways of the Lord." Acceptance of those ways, however mysterious, has been a part of life in Appalachia since settlers first cleared the wilderness in the late 1700s. Religious faith amid adversity came naturally and was as much a part of the community's life as banding togethras much a part of the community's life as banding together to overcome the perils of homesteading. Since then, belief has not wavered. Even today, old cemetries in some of the hollows are maintained with meticulous care by families whose regular visits to the graves of loved ones are part of the religious impulse.
It may be weeks before officials from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration offer their judgement on the cause of the scaffold collapse. Then the survivors must make a decision on what kind of litigation, if any, they want to involve themselves in. For Now, the courage of citizens like Lee Steele - to press on, to remain resolute, to assert belief - is a dramatic reminder that the strong faith that has always characterized Appalachia is being carried on.