Monday, May 30, 2011

A Great Spirit is at Work in Joplin

Her contented smile contradicted the story which her face told the world; the tale of a recent encounter with a chimney, a dump truck, a tree or a stranger's boot. Not only was her face many shades of purple and black, she had lost everything or she would not be here - sleeping in a gymnasium, surrounded by strangers. My friend reached out to her. "You were really hurt. How are you?" No complaints, no words of suffering. The woman's "I'm fine" said more. "I'll get through this. I'm alive," was the unspoken message.

The man on the radio - the one who made his living talking - was nearly speechless. His family home had sustained tornado damage. He must have mentioned how his boots were constantly wet from working on his house in the rain, so a listener drove from out of town, visited the station and handed the announcer cash, asking him to buy himself a new pair of boots.

When he found his voice he replied, "so many people need this more than I. Let me find a place where this can do more good. Thank you, so much."

More times than not, it seems we've become a country of whiners. A people interested more in taking than giving. Individuals who will climb the backs of our closest friends to advance our own interests and monetary goals.

It seems that the slightest inconvenience is met with a roar. When a windstorm knocks down trees, sending people into the dark for a few days the letters fly to the papers and airwaves fill with voices of woe. "I pay my taxes! How dare I be inconvenienced my morning latte, my big screen tv, my internet!" In the old days, rather than wait for someone else, citizens pulled together and canvased the town with chainsaws so power crews could more easily get their work done. The old days seem to be slipping away.

After Hurricane Earl the radio broadcasted hours of whining. Even though they had a week or more to prepare, the demands of people were immediate and many. "The government should be getting us water and ice to keep the steaks we bought yesterday from going bad." (Wondering to myself why they didn't actually put up water and buy provisions that weren't perishable, my mind screams in reply "you can't fix stupid.")

But something about Joplin is different. The shelters seem to be underutilized, which means hundreds of people have opened their homes and are sharing what they have with victims.

Strangers have come to search in the rain, humidity, heat, and cold for the missing. They climb under the ruins of homes, slosh through waste-deep water, turn over boards and pieces of junk in hopes of not finding a body. They tell stories of strangers coming along, handing out bags of sandwiches and bottles of water. The outlook is more of "together we'll pull through this," rather than "why me?" or other complaints.

It seems that every other corner in Joplin is host to a cookout. "If you are hungry, please, stop and have a hot meal on us."

The word goes out "you have been so generous. Today we have all the blood, all the clothing we can use. But, please, remember us next week."

People appear to be patient with each other and when an impractical move is imposed - like trying to protect people from looting by enacting a pass system - the city quickly sees they can't effectively manage such a program and cancels it, admitting the idea had merit but wasn't practical. (Government actually seeing and then admitting an error? That alone is astonishing.)

The EF5 tornado which ripped its way through this small Missouri town failed to take with it the soul of Joplin. Instead, it opened the hearts of millions around the world. Hundreds have arrived and thousands more are making their way to this little known part of the country. And, with the help of millions who've given their money, their time, their prayers - the community will rebuild.

If only there was a way to bottle this spirit; to pull it out once a year. To inflict a booster shot to everyone in the world, we'd be a peaceful and much more powerful force in the universe.

Photos: Flag flies at half-mast at the Missouri Southern State University campus which has become the central location for volunteer opportunities, a Red Cross Shelter, and Humane Society local in Joplin. The clean up and rebuilding following the devastating EF5 tornado which ripped through Joplin a week ago will continue for months.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Out of the Ruins

The man before me was like any other - middle-aged, graying hair, a little thick around the middle. There was a tiredness about him from a day of searching for what he prayed not to find - someone's loved one, buried under mounds of rubble or floating in a creek.

"I drove in from Montana. I just had to help. Figured I'd sleep in my car, but I'd sure appreciate a shower if you know of a place I can clean up."

He was not alone. Hundreds of people have arrived in Joplin, touched by the destruction that an EF5 tornado had brought to this town, and offering to play a small part in helping total strangers rebuild their lives.

A nurse called the day after the tornado struck and was told they no longer needed medical personnel. She drove down anyway and once in Joplin was asked to set up and run a small clinic in one of the shelters. When her patients were attended to, she was joined by her daughter from Texas and teamed with others who were spending long hours combing sections of the town in search of survivors.

"My father lost his home so I drove in from central Nebraska to help," a gentleman said. "I have 15 people joining me this weekend. What can we do?"

Arayo and I met a Newfoundland friend and spent the day in Joplin. I hoped to track down an old buddy I'd been unable to reach to insure his safety, then we planned to take the Newfs to offer a little dog therapy to victims and responders. Spotting the volunteer registration center, we asked how else we could help and were assigned to the front desk where we registered new volunteers, visited with search and rescue crews returning from the rubble, and directed others to showers and shelter.

As we heard story after story, I was truly touched by the outpouring of love and care which was expressed. I was amazed at the willingness of people to leave their lives behind and to drive into a disaster area to help others with whom they had no connection. The uncertainty of "Where will I eat? Where will I sleep? What will I be asked to endure?" paled as they focused on the bigger question, "How can I make a difference?"

The flood of compassion is astounding. Housewives, military men, bankers, fugitives, teachers, blue collar workers, families with children, teens with tattoos, bikers and clergy; all work side by side. The common need meets uncommon compassion. At the end of the day, the outer trappings are peeled away and each knows that where it matters, they are all the same. They've experienced the good in each other.

As the world's eyes and ears turn to the horrors and destruction wrought on Joplin last Sunday, we can choose to look at the atrocity or we can join together in a common goal of support and regrowth. Sometimes I just stand in awe of the good in our fellow man.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Lure and the Tragedy of Tornados

They say it is mostly gone, the devastation indescribable. Joplin. The "city" near us. Its shopping malls, theaters and restaurants lure people from the surrounding area. Its hospitals care for our most critically ill.

Tonight the photos show a city in bits and splinters. People walk among the ruins like zombies, in a state of shock. The backdrop - one of the major hospitals which took a direct hit.

The silence of my small town some 40 miles away is broken by ambulances and police vehicles which rush by my house to help in the rescue efforts.


I suppose you have to be from the mid-west to understand, but there is a lure to the weather that creates these murderous phenomena.

This evening I got a call; "We're under a tornado warning. Take cover." I'm not one for watching tv or listening to the radio, so I depend on friends to let me know what is happening sometimes. I looked down the street. The skies above me were bright, but to the north it was black as night. People along the street were standing in their yards, looking towards the skies.

I grabbed Arayo and my camera and headed to the park which sits on a bluff overlooking the Neosho River and the farmlands beyond. The thought crossed my mind that the winds could blow down a tree or power line, trapping me alone, away from shelter.

But, the winds, the boiling black clouds and changing temperatures were luring me for a better look.

The scene on the bluff was a surprise. Cars jockeyed for a place to park, the elevated overlook was jammed. Parents, kids, dogs. Everyone's eyes were scanning the clouds, searching for the dip that signaled the beginning of a twister.

After a bit, the crowd began to clear. We Americans look for immediate gratification and watching the skies for hours was wearing thin. Three of us and a little white dog remained to watch the clouds which seemed angrier, and who's movement was making radical shifts.

As I returned home, the excitement seemed to have passed, though the radio announcer was interviewing the Joplin area Emergency Prepardness Director who was warning the people to take cover. A tornado had been sighted near there and was coming their way………

Usually, such warnings are fairly meaningless. "Conditions are right……. " "A funnel cloud was sighted……." "Go into a basement or interior room in your home….."

I've lived in the mid-west more than half my life and I've yet to see a tornado. My mother died at 86. Never saw a twister.

I love tornado season. There's a charge in the air, an energy and power that seduces you….. Until you live through one, that is.

Tonight Joplin lies in ruins. I worry for a nephew and friend who live there. I feel for all those dealing with loss, and worried for their loved ones. At least 30 are confirmed dead. The actual number may be much higher. Hundreds are homeless. Pleas are out for anyone with a medical background to respond……….

Monday, May 9, 2011

News Flash! Arayo in the News Again

Like a game of ping-pong, the stories bounce. Arayo made the local newspaper two weeks ago for attending Pie Day and getting a cookie. So I blogged about her new fame, which was met with another notice by the Labette Avenue that we had blogged about them writing about this big event. Now, I'm writing to report that they reported that I reported that they reported that Arayo ate a cookie.

I can see that this really could continue until local readers respond by taking out their guns and stalking us down……

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

Mother's Day. My first in 56 years without, though I sit at mom's home, surrounded by her good energies and what is left of her things. This weekend was the culmination of 2 months of work as strangers, friends and family came to pick over her rummage sale items. Some showed up in search of a new trinket - not realizing what an amazing woman had previously owned the bobble, but many came with the goal of purchasing something they could remember her by. Mom would have liked that - knowing her things would bring joy, or simply remembrance, to people she cared about. Most of her cherished items were things given to her by others.

Mom's shelves and closets, though not bare, have lots more breathing room today. Many of the things that represent her personality, her interests, her life, are now part of another's home, though the more irreplaceable items still remain. Not diamonds, gold or priceless heirlooms - she had no interest in things of that nature. The things that remain are those many might mistake for junk. How could I place a price on the wooden woman with big red lips, bangle earrings and arms and legs made of pop bottle caps? Or the rock man head with the big red nose and tufts of white fuzzy hair? Some things are best kept in the family.

Mom - Happy Mother's Day. And thanks for a good life.

Photos - Bargain hunters at Mom's rummage sale didn't get the really good stuff!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Arayo Makes The News

It seemed like such an ordinary week, really. My days have become a long stream of endless tasks: cleaning out closets, sorting items to give away, sell or keep. When not doing that, I'm pawing through papers, letters, and financial documents - attempting to cull the important from just plain trash.

Thursday offers a slight break in the programming. Thursday noon, two things happen…… Pie Day - the weekly event held at a local bakery, Lori's Creative Cakes, where women gather for whatever pie the staff has baked for the day. I say women - men can come but it is rare to find one there. Their loss.

Now, Lori is known throughout the area for her beautifully decorated cakes and cookies. She has won numerous regional and even national cake decorating contests and many are on display in her shop. Most disturbing is a nearly life-sized boxer, laying on a rug. No matter where you sit in the room, that dog's eyes follow you - it is unnerving, considering he's frosting and pastry.

The real reason for Pie Day, though, is an official time for sharing news and intellectual conversation. For instance, I learned last week that Long John Silvers in the neighboring town went out of business a couple years ago, leaving the people of the county strapped for fried fish and, well, scraps. Crisps? Those little hunks of friend batter that fall off the fish and have no apparent use. Seems that if you ask nicely Long Johns will serve you up a passel of those fried thingies - give em to you for taking them off their hands. Now, THAT is news!

The other thing that happens on Thursday at about the same time as Pie Day is the delivery of the local paper. When I was growing up, my dad ran one of the two papers in town - The Democrat. That's a story for another day, but the paper can be another good source of small town information. In the old days, family members loved to come visit us because they always had their names listed in the paper. "Bob and Janet's nieces came for dinner on Sunday. After chicken and rice casserole they took a walk to the Riverside Park."

I'm not kidding. There was someone assigned to call the little old ladies in town to see who visited them during the past week and it all got served to the readers in black and white.

This week's paper was a keeper! Under the photos of smiling kids with their Easter candy (provided by the local hospital - which I find somehow sinister) is an article on a blue shaded background with big red letters proclaiming "NO MORE B-S IN OSWEGO CITY HALL!" Heck, I saw people buying this paper just for that article. Seems someone noticed a trend in local city government going back 44 years. Every mayor the city has had in that time has had a last name beginning with a B or an S and none of them were related. This year's running S got beat out by the running F, ending the tradition. However, if I know governments - there'll still be lots of, well, you know..... BS.

If that isn't big enough news - most of the back page is filled with an account of one family's trip to Texas to compete in a Warrior Dash. Seems people - some wearing capes and headgear decorated with horns and fur - compete in a 5 mile race where they climb over wrecked cars, crawl across nets and plod through 2' deep mud to reach the finish line. I admit, it sounded like a hoot. Imagine the crazy people you'd meet at a function like this! But I know for a fact that the mother of this family (who also participated in this dash), while a nice person, has at least one major screw loose. I was recently invited to spend a weekend with a group of - shall we say - WHACKOS - that she is involved with. They spend a day at an area lake turning over rocks looking for, (LOOKING FOR!!!!!) counting and cataloging SNAKES! Then they camp out on the same crawling, icky ground that night. (As you might imagine, my response wasn't "No" but "What? Are you out of your frigging mind?")

But, with all this exciting news, imagine my surprise to open the paper to see a familiar name. You see, Arayo made the paper because we walked to town for Pie Day last week. I tied her to a little bench in front of the shop and she sat alone, sadly gazing into the store at all the women happily telling lies and eating pie. The owner, Lori, took pity on her and gave her a peanut butter cookie - all this while Rena, the editor of the paper took note. So that was Arayo's break into the local news. She attended Pie Day where she was treated to a cookie! Can't get more exciting than that!

PHOTO: Arayo watches for cookies in front of the Oswego Newspaper Office, The Labette Avenue