Nebraska, as Nebraskans long have known, consists of a small community within a large state.
When we argue, as in our Unicameral Legislature, we can argue fiercely. When we succeed, as on many a Husker weekend of years past, we cheer together.
And when we hurt — as so many are in this disastrous month — we all hurt.
Once more, Nebraskans have hustled to pick each other up in the face of monumental losses in the blizzard-ravaged Panhandle and Sandhills cattle country and our state’s flood-devastated central and eastern counties.
The “bomb cyclone” of March 13-14, 2019, already has earned its place in Nebraska history. But its aftermath will overshadow us, and our local and state economies, for many months to come.
We must continue to be “One Nebraska” — as Ben Nelson, our McCook-born former governor and U.S. senator, liked to say — long, long after the snows melt and the floodwaters at last recede.
We must keep pulling together, not apart, throughout our state and within our communities.
That includes us here in North Platte, for more reasons than one.
There was a sense here, after the storm at last moved out, of what one might call survivor’s guilt.
Oh, we had some rain, followed by those same awful winds faced by our neighbors on three sides. A few county roads flooded. We lost a tree here, a sign there, perhaps a piece of siding or a few shingles.
But that was it.
How on Earth were we spared from the epic blizzards to our west and north and the catastrophic rains and flooding to our east?
Perhaps, as Michelle Whips of North Platte said while helping to assemble one local flood-relief effort, it was so we could give more of ourselves to our suffering Nebraska neighbors.
The spirit of selfless generosity endures here. We call it “Canteen Spirit” because of its farthest-reaching manifestations over the past century: North Platte’s trackside canteens in both world wars.
But this town never could have bestowed 51 consecutive months of kindness upon 6 million World War II service members without those other 125 communities who helped out.
“Canteen Spirit” is, in truth, another name for “Nebraska Strong.”
When we give to each other without counting the cost, and without questioning each other’s motives, we are at our very best as Nebraskans — and as humans.
We need that spirit in abundance in the months to come, both as a state and as a community.
Our state’s economy was ailing, outside Omaha and Lincoln at any rate, even before the monster storm. Now Nebraskans also face fearsome economic costs from its aftermath. Flood relief efforts are only the beginning of a long recovery.
It might seem trivial in comparison to mention the following. But though North Platte largely escaped the storm, it suffered another serious economic blow last week with the nationwide demise of Shopko, now to become the fifth national retail chain to close here in three years.
That leaves only Walmart and Menards as major national retailers in North Platte.
Even as we carry on the laudable tasks of loading relief trucks for our stricken neighbors, we need to pull together for our own sake.
We must rebuild our retail base, revitalize and increase our housing stock and repair our own infrastructure. We must support our local businesses and employers, especially should any of them seek to fill the voids left by Herberger’s, JCPenney, Staples, Payless Shoe Source and now Shopko.
And we must diversify our own employment base, so we’re less vulnerable when people in faraway boardrooms decide to shrink or fold their local tents.
None of this can succeed if we’re fearful of investing in ourselves and chronically suspicious of those among us who are working to renew North Platte for another generation.
Those matters lie ahead of us, though. For now, our focus rightly belongs on our hurting fellow Nebraskans. They need our help.
Responding when our friends and neighbors hurt, after all, is what “The Good Life” in
Nebraska always has been about.