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The Boston Christmas Tree

by | Dec 3, 2020

This Sunday marks the 103rd anniversary of the Halifax explosion that took place in Nova Scotia, Canada. On the morning of December 6th, 1917, two ships collided with each near the Richmond district of Halifax. One of these ships was stocked full of highly explosive liquids. At the time, it was the largest human-made explosion to ever take place. It devastated buildings, injured 9,000 people, and killed almost 2,000.

When word reached the state of Massachusetts that an explosion had taken place in Halifax, the details were scarce. Then Governor, Samuel McCall, reached out via telegram to offer assistance. However, a sense of urgency, and the fact that details were so scant, caused him to send a team of surgeons and nurses, along with extra medical supplies, that evening via train. Below is a transcript of the telegram he sent ahead of the team of doctors and nurses. 

My dear Mr. Mayor: I am sending Hon. A. C. Ratshesky, of the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee, immediately to your city, with a corps of our best state surgeons and nurses, in the belief that they may be of service to you in this hour of need. I need hardly say to you that we have the strongest affection for the people of your city, and that we are anxious to do everything possible for their assistance at this time. Kindly express to the people of your city the very deep sympathy of the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and assure them that we are ready to answer to any call that they may need to make upon us. Immediately upon hearing of the terrible blow dealt to Halifax, I sent the following telegram to you:

“Understand your city in danger from explosion and conflagration. Reports only fragmentary. Massachusetts stands ready to go to the limit in rendering every assistance you may be in need of. Wire me immediately.”

Upon being informed that the wires were out of commission, through the good offices of the Federal Government at Washington, this further telegram was sent to you by wireless:

“Since sending my telegram this morning offering unlimited assistance, an important meeting of the citizens has been held and Massachusetts stands ready to offer aid in any way you can avail yourself of it. We are prepared to send forward immediately a special train with surgeons, nurses, and other medical assistance, but await advices from you.”

Won’t you please call upon Mr. Ratshesky for every help that you need. The commonwealth of Massachusetts will stand back of Mr. Ratshesky in every way.

Respectfully yours,

Samuel W. McCall, Governor

P.S. Realizing that time is of the utmost importance, we have not waited for your answer, but have dispatched the train.

“Realizing that time is of the utmost importance, we have not waited for your answer, but have dispatched the train.” The first time I read that part of the telegram, I’ll be honest, I got a little misty eyed. Seeing humankind so vigorously defend one another is a beautiful thing. To this day, the city of Nova Scotia sends a Christmas tree to Boston Common to commemorate such urgent and selfless help, following such horrifying tragedy.

Not only is this story horrific and inspiring, it isolates a very key truth for all of us. Time is of the utmost importance. There are so many people in need. It is overwhelming at times. But this type of response is what we need to aspire towards. “We don’t know all of the details, but we’re going to send you as much help as possible.” The church does some amazing work. It always has, and yet a radical leap forward can still be made. “We don’t have all of the details, but we’re going to send you as much help as possible.”

There are an overwhelming number of people in need, an overwhelming number of problems that we face. In the midst of those, there are also seismic cultural and political shifts taking place. Do not be discouraged. We don’t need all of the details. We’re going to send as much help as possible.

Say it with me now, “We’re going to send as much help as possible.”

 Amen.

Adam

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