Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity,
"The Second Coming"
William Butler Yeats
In the past two weeks, our community in central Kentucky has witnessed the worst our world has to offer. In the early hours of an otherwise peaceful and beautiful fall morning, a seven-year veteran of our local police department was fatally shot by a convicted felon while investigating an attempted robbery. He died two days later and left behind a school teacher-wife and 3 year-old son. Both Daniel and Katie Ellis are proud graduates of Eastern Kentucky University.
The outpouring of grief and sympathy, yes - from everyone in our community - but really from across the country and world has been absolutely astounding. Never before has a police officer in Richmond, Kentucky, been killed in the line of duty and I have heard residents of our fair city say that they feel as if a portion of the innocence of our community has been lost forever. But the tide of grief and pain was stemmed by the even more powerful response to this senseless tragedy.
The sorrow at the loss of Office Ellis has been overwhelming for many to bear, but the show of support and good has been equally unfathomable. People who did not know Officer Ellis personally stood in line for hours to pass respects at the visitation. Flowers and messages of condolence and support streamed in from all over, including a beautiful arrangement and card from the New York Yankees. Officer Ellis' squad car, parked in front of the Richmond Police department, had an enormous American flag hanging overhead from a fire truck ladder while flowers and notes of sympathy were placed atop and all around the vehicle.
The memorial service - held at our Alumni Coliseum on campus - was attended by over 7,000 people and broadcast live on local television. Following the service, the procession of police vehicles behind the hearse stretched for over twelve miles as it wound its way to Officer Ellis' final resting place in south central Kentucky. Common citizens, safety personnel, school children - thousands of people - lined the highway and state roads to pay their respects as this line of traffic passed in solemn silence. I have never witnessed anything quite like it in my life.
Days later, the news and horror broke upon the world of the carefully-planned and meticulously-executed attacks on innocent civilians in Paris leaving hundreds dead and wounded in the City of Lights. As details emerged from the orchestrated massacres, we recoiled at the "passionate intensity" unleashed by those whose motivation to do such acts will forever escape me.
As was the case with Officer Ellis and the public response, I have marveled as the world has risen together in support of France and her people. My older brother, Steve Benson, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic. His pen captured the moment perfectly as he portrayed our own Statue of Liberty - a gift from France to celebrate America's independence - descending from her perch and wading into the Atlantic to come to France's defense as the Paris skyline is engulfed in flames and smoke.
Yeats wrote his famous "The Second Coming" poem in 1920, just as the world, still reeling from the War to End All Wars, arose from a conflict unlike anything anyone had ever experienced. Technology had far surpassed the military stratagems and techniques still utilized from the 19th century. The resulting carnage wiped out entire generations of young and promising citizens from both sides of the global struggle. From Yeats' view, the ceremony of innocence had been completely drowned, ushering in an age where the best lack all conviction.
What is so difficult to understand is why it takes unthinkable tragedy to galvanize communities and countries against the anarchy "loosed upon the world" at moments such as these.
This need not be the case. If the events in Richmond, Kentucky, and Paris, France, have served any purpose for those who have witnessed them, it is to compel all of us to remember the words of Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."