While at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving, I ran through the streets of Joplin for the first time since three weeks after the tornado struck. What a difference 18 months has made. The debris is generally gone, and rebuilding is well underway. Of course, it’s not the same as it was before. Standing at ground zero 18 months ago, seeing every structure and tree leveled as far as I could see in every direction, it was clear it would never be the same again. The complete loss of trees from established neighborhoods alone proved that. It takes years to rebuild thousands of homes. Germany’s reconstruction after WWII took 40 years. New homes and businesses are going up in the destroyed neighborhoods, though they are still outnumbered by the vacant lots around them. While I know the new homes rose, one by one, shining and new from the rubble, they still have the odd look of having hunkered down and somehow survived some horrific disaster which claimed those around them. They look like survivors, an appropriate metaphor for the whole town.
The city lost 161 of its citizens to a random, devastating event. Joplin is a hard-working town in the heartland of America. It didn’t deserve what happened. But the townspeople reacted the way Americans, the way humans, react: by rebuilding, by going on. Life changed forever, but it went on. It always goes on.
“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” –Winston Churchill
I’ve never had to dodge debris on a run before…
…nor had I ever cried. The homes with a number spray painted on them means someone died. The pieces of people’s lives are scattered everywhere: clothing, cooler lids, (literally) kitchen sinks, shingles everywhere, Christmas decorations…
But also signs of starting over, of rebuilding, of hope. American flags are all over town, even in the debris zone.
My parents, brother, and sister-in-law live in Joplin, Missouri. They were lucky on May 22nd…they received only minor damage to their home, though the massive tornado that ripped through town missed them by 4 blocks. They also have a basement, unlike most of the houses in town. We arrived today for our first visit since the tornado. We’ve all seen the pictures on TV, of the rubble and the now-famous St. John’s Hospital. But until you’re in the middle of it, you can’t appreciate the scale. Block after block of nothing but rubble…all of it once homes and businesses. My mother said she finds herself driving slowly when she goes through it, she doesn’t know why. I did the same. Maybe because it’s a stark reminder that in a matter of moments, our lives can dramatically change. She and my sister-in-law had each planned to run errands that afternoon but for some reason didn’t. Both would have been in the path if they had, instead of at home taking shelter in the basement. I had known for a month that the tornado had missed them by 4 blocks. But that fact didn’t really hit me until I was in the middle of an intersection where there was nothing left – literally nothing – as far as I could see in all directions. Four blocks. Hug or call your family today.