Commentary: This Christmas, be a Who

December 17, 2021 10:25 pm
Halyn McKnight, 26, sits on the front porch of what was left of her home. She had only lived there for nine months before the tornado destroyed her home. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Halyn McKnight, 26, sits on the front porch of what was left of her home. She had only lived there for nine months before the tornado destroyed her home. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The Christmas season can be an emotional and introspective time of year for many, those of us who miss family or loved ones, for instance.  In spite of the bright lights and festive parties, it can be too easy to dwell on the negative.

But a couple of days ago, John Partipilo made me reconsider my personal gloom. 

Partipilo is a renowned photojournalist with whom I have the good fortune to work through the Tennessee Lookout. He’s a ‘have camera, will travel’ kind of guy and called me Wednesday night on his way home from Dawson Springs, Kentucky, one of the hardest-hit of the areas hard hit by extreme tornado damage over the weekend.

“Man,” Partipilo said. “This town is pretty poor and most of the houses are gone—it’s even worse than Mayfield (Kentucky, another Western Kentucky town that experienced catastrophic damage.)” 

Partipilo went on. 

“But everyone was so nice — people who had nothing left. One guy told me he’s lived there for 36 years and has nothing left,” said Partipilo. “And the Amish people — they started cooking and taking food to people who had suffered damage.”

How to help:

Partipilo’s voice had a touch of wonderment in it at how people who had little to begin with and even less after the storm could be so pleasant. 

His story made me think about my favorite childhood Christmas story by Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” 

I’m sure you know the story of how the hateful Grinch and his heart, two sizes too small, couldn’t bear to see others happy and stole Christmas from the holiday-loving Whos in the nearby town. He took their presents and trees, boxes and bags and even their holiday meal, in an effort to make the Whos feel the same pain as he did.

He failed. Christmas morning, sans gifts and decorations, the Whos came to the town square and joined hands to sing. I know it’s a simplistic analogy, but I felt like that Grinch as I thought of the folks of Mayfield and Dawson Springs, Kentucky, the people who could still be kind to a stranger in their midst despite their own losses. 

The best gift we can all give ourselves is to practice gratitude. I may still miss my parents, but I can be thankful for the wise choices they made in keeping the family home I now live in. I can create small joys by making cookies as I usually do, and giving them away. 

And while I have no sleigh and there’s no Mt. Crumpet down which to zoom it, returning presents to Whos, we can all use our good fortune to contribute to others who lack it, including making donations to organizations aiding the people of Western Tennessee and Kentucky. 

If I may paraphrase Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all of you who are far and near. 


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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.