"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. ...Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. " 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16
I keep feeling like I should say something. Tell you guys about it. I've been completely absorbed by it and haven't really thought of much else, but I don't know what I want to say. I doubt I could tell a story that isn't already floating around out there somewhere, or show a picture that hasn't been shown on FB or the Internet.
In fact, that photo above is the only one I'm going to post. Not only because I imagine you've already seen them. But mostly because none of the pictures can come close to showing you how devastating the storm really was. I do not mean this to be snotty, but if you never knew the pre-tornado Joplin, you just won't get it. You don't have a clue. Cameras have lenses, but they do not have eyes. They don't SEE.
Just as it can't be captured properly on film, it can't be summed up in a thousand words or less, either. Looking at this much destruction honestly sucks the words right out of your head. There are no adequate words.
When you are driving through a town you know so well, and suddenly you can't even be sure what street you're on because there is nothing recognizable or familiar to you (even though you're sitting at a major intersection)... That's when you get it. That's when you see. Watching people stumble around in their "yards" that look more like nuclear testing sites, with blank, zombie-like stares... You see it then.
We're about a 10-15 minute drive from Joplin. It's the closest "big" town to us (with a pop. of roughly 50,000, compared to my own Redneck Crossing's 5,000). It's where we shop, go to movies, or go out to eat. I'm there at least once a week, usually more. And you know what? I love it. I didn't know that until two weeks ago, but I do. I love Joplin, MO. I thought I hated it. While I've enjoyed raising my kids in a small town, I've always missed little bits of the life I left behind years ago.
I thought of Joplin as a pretty poor substitute for 'city life' whenever I was in the mood to shop or attend cultural events. The first time I drove over there to shop, some twenty years ago, I remember thinking my life was turning into a bad remake of "Green Acres." And fine dining? You eat at a restuarant that has peanut shells on the floor and, by gosh, you like it. In fact, those kinds of restaurants became my idea of a cultural event.
Little did I know, Joplin had somehow managed to worm its way into my heart. It's home. Peanut shells and all.
We have friends who live or work there- some own(ed) businesses there. For the most part, our small circle of friends is "okay," physically. We do know quite a few people who lost a loved one, their own home, or are now out of work.
I believe the most recent number given of those who died (and I'm hoping this is the final count) stands at 141. And, while I know this is the most unoriginal thought ever, the craziest thing to me when I'm looking at the crumbled buildings and empty slabs where homes once stood, is not that this storm killed 141 people- it's that it only killed 141 people. I'm truly amazed that there are so many survivors. You look at these heaps of rubble and think, "Someone actually crawled out of that?" If it would have happened on a week day? I don't even want to think about how high that number would have been.
When the tornado hit, I was cooking dinner and watched it touch down on TV. The weather guy said there was a confirmed tornado on the ground in Joplin and I was honestly a little relieved. I was thanking God that this really bad storm they'd been calling for all day appeared as if it was going to miss us. I kept cooking dinner. Of course, I didn't know yet. Obviously. I may be a self-centered, crappy person, but I'm not that self-centered and crappy. The tornado was "rain-wrapped," so you couldn't clearly see the destruction as it was happening. Living in this area means you hear of tornado sightings all. the. time. Tornado watches and warnings are just a part of life. You get a little desensitized, I guess. You just assume everything will be okay.
I've thought a lot this past week about those first moments- about how, as over one hundred people were losing there lives and hundreds more were losing everything they owned, I was casually watching, feeling relieved that my family's dinner wasn't being interrupted. I was glad that, for the moment anyway, I didn't have to turn off the stove and go sit in our shelter where I'd have to reassure my kids that we'd be "just fine, honey" (while simultaneously having a claustrophobic FIT and feeling like I definitely will not be "just fine, honey").
(I hate that shelter, by the way. Have I mentioned that before? I thank God we have it, but I hate it. My fear of being trapped in the shelter is right up there with my fear of tornadoes.)
It was a few hours into the evening before we really realized that the situation in Joplin was "bad" (ummm... keep in mind here that I'm trying very hard not to overstate things, embellish, or otherwise pack this post full of repetitive, obnoxious superlatives- so if I err, it will be on the side of understatement. And calling the situation "bad" is a definite understatement).
As soon as the news reports started coming in, the emotional overload began and it hasn't stopped. I've burst into tears every. single. day since May 22nd- and I wasn't even involved. I can't imagine how much stronger that feeling of "overload" is for the people of Joplin. It hits hardest when you're over there, looking at it, but every little thing- TV, FB, an email from a friend, triggers an unstoppable flood of tears. I keep wondering when that will end and why it's overtaking me so completely when I wasn't even directly affected. Do you all react this strongly to these kinds of things, or is there something wrong with me?
It's taking a toll on the kids, too. If you were reading this blog in May 2008, you may remember the tornado we were in then. I think I shared at that time that several of us, me included, were struggling with a lot of fear, anxiety and nervousness over every little raindrop. It had a long-lasting effect on us that wasn't gone by any stretch, and now...
One of my kids is so freaked out, I really think he may benefit from some professional counseling. I'm getting worried that this latest disaster, on top of the residual fears from 2008, has scarred him for life. And I'm not kidding. He's been asking if we can sell the house and move. This is the only home he's ever known, yet he'd walk away from it today if I said we could. I'm trying to make him understand that almost every part of our country has the threat of some type of natural disaster. If it's not tornadoes, it's hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires, or floods... He's still willing to take his chances somewhere else (if anyone happens to know, right off the top of her lovely noggin, which state is least-affected by natural disasters, I'd love to hear it).
The aftermath of the tornado puts the phrase "emotional roller-coaster" to shame. It's all just too much. The destruction and chaos. The losses of life and property. The survivor's first-hand accounts. The stories of those whose lives were just beginning and now they're gone (like Will Norton, who was just leaving his high school graduation with his family. The tornado pulled him from their vehicle, despite his father's efforts to cling so hard to his son that his arms were injured. Or Harli Howard, age 5, and Hayze Howard, 19 mos, who died with their 29 yr. old father, Russell, as he held them in his arms, trying to keep them safe. They were all laid to rest the other day... together, exactly as they'd been found- the two children in their daddy's arms). I find myself grieving for these people I didn't even know.
There are the good stories too, of course. And, thankfully, we're hearing more and more of those every day. Joplin is jam-packed full of heroes, as far as I'm concerned. If you watched the coverage of the memorial service last Sunday, you may have heard Obama, Gov. Nixon, and various pastors mention the sense of brotherhood and community here. Everyone is helping. Well, almost. There are the jerks- looters, the people of Westboro Baptist Church (which is a post for another day), one or two obnoxious people who seem to think we're in some kind of tornado contest and Joplin wasn't "anywhere near as bad as Tuscaloosa" (which is not accurate, by the way). But they're the crappy exception. Catastrophes bring out the worst in some, but the best in most. People are coming by busloads from other states to help. It feels as if everyone cares. Everyone is giving as much as they can of their time and money. You see hand-written cardboard signs all over town, saying things like 'FREE MEALS SERVED HERE,' or 'WE HAVE SUPPLIES.' Everywhere you look, you will see hordes of volunteers, shovels or chainsaws in hand, wiping the sweat from their brows. The donations and volunteers started coming the very night the storm hit and they continue to come. Everyone is going above and beyond.
That, too, is like nothing I've ever seen before. It gives us all so much hope. While I'm sure the city will accept and appreciate whatever help it gets, no one is sitting around waiting for the government to swoop in and rescue them. These "Show Me" Staters are showing everyone how it's done.
I'm so, so proud of my small-town, Midwestern, crap-kickin' corner of the world, and even prouder to be a Missourian (by birth. I'm only a Kansan by marriage ;P). And I'm proud of Joplin, my town. The town I love.
Please, please keep the people of Joplin in your prayers.