Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Joplin, Missouri - Tears, Laughter, Love

I just got home from Joplin Monday evening. I had an excellent weekend visiting with my brother and sister-in-law who live on the city's north side, about eight football fields away from the path of the tornado that destroyed the center of their town a year ago. Though I've had the pleasure of seeing them several times over the last year, there were a few reasons I wasn't able to make the trip to their house for a visit since that horrific day.

We spent a lot of time talking about the tornado and the stories that resulted from it -- stories of people they happened to meet because of the storm, and stories of people they had already known, many of whom were affected in the most tragic ways, but many who were also affected in the most miraculous ways. One of the stories they shared with me was about a man they know. They had hired him to tune their piano and make some cosmetic repairs to it after they had moved it from Ohio into their home. The man's name is David Vanderhoofven. David did an excellent job on the piano and was happy with the result. He asked S and T if he could bring his fiance by to see it. Of course they agreed, and were pleased to meet Darian after a few weeks. David and "Dee" eventually got married, and their baby son, Joshua, later turned the duo into a trio. David's May 22, 2011 story can be found here. While S tells the stories, his voice weakens and tears flow. It's a year later, and my brother questions why he still gets so emotional about it. I know why. How do you come away unscathed from a time in your life when part of your volunteer effort is to direct people searching for their loved ones to the Red Cross personnel who then escort them to a make-shift morgue.

Healing is a process, and the healing in this city began right away. My brother boasted -- and rightly so -- that the residents of Joplin didn't wait for FEMA to tell them what to do. They knew what had to be done, and within minutes after the storm had moved to the east they started doing it. Their healing process started with their love for each other. With this human healing also came evidence of life renewing itself in other forms. Flowers are now blooming where they had never been planted by human hands. While the evil wind was scattering debris for miles, it was also dropping life back into the the path it had created.

St. John's Hospital

The Street Sign at Illinois and 24th

Some debris remains, and there are still buildings that haven't been taken down yet, St. John's Hospital being the biggest. It still sits on the western horizon and can be seen very clearly from Rangeline Road's commercial district four miles to the east. Still, the progress is amazing. "Everything you see here is new," S reminds me as we toured the area along Rangeline.  They've been replacing utility poles and street signs.  It's hard to navigate in a town without landmarks or street signs. Some intersections have temporary, ground-level printed signs, but other places still rely on the initial spray-paint method to confirm one's whereabouts.

The apartment home where S and T lived when they first moved to town at "The Plaza," had been destroyed. Yet only one year later, the entire complex is nearly finished being rebuilt, and it's beautiful -- as beautiful as it was when they lived there.  Maybe even more. The contractor was able to use the same foundations, so we were able to go into the new apartment in the exact place where their former apartment had been. Even the closet, from which we pulled hats and mittens before heading out to an autumn weenie roast, is in the same place. Being there brought back memories even for me.

We left The Plaza and drove through a number of neighborhoods where homes are gradually being repaired or rebuilt. Signs of encouragement dot many street corners. I saw the results of the hard work done by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity and Extreme Makeover. Children played on scooters on the sidewalk in front of their new homes.

We were drawn to 2427 Pennsylvania Avenue where David and Dee had lived with their baby, and we lingered there for quite some time before moving westward toward St. John's Hospital.

2427 Pennsylvania Avenue

Million Bells in Dee's Flower Bed

Joshua's Toy

Just across the street from St. John's Hospital is Cunningham Park.  Like The Plaza, it has been rebuilt, and, after touring acre upon acre of lots that had once been occupied by family homes and businesses, it was great to see families enjoying a day at the park. The kids were having a blast and squealing with laughter.

Laughter. That's the best part of being with S and T. I can honestly say that I don't laugh harder anywhere than I do when I am with my brother. It's those big, loud, belly laughs that make me double over. It's the kind of laughter that takes your breath away and you end up wheezing and coughing. It's the best. I guess S just "gets me." I have always had a bit of impatience (a big bit) with people who take themselves too seriously. And I think S must feel the same way. He is a professional. He has a very strong work ethic. He knows his stuff, and people respect and trust him. At least it sure seems as if they do. He is serious when he needs to be serious, and focused when he needs to be focused. But he is by far the silliest person I have ever known, and I absolutely adore being silly with him.

So you see, even after tragedy, live renews itself and the laughter returns. In Joplin they call it The Miracle of the Human Spirit.

What happens now? More tears? Sure.
That's going to happen.
More progress? Yes, of course. It's going to take several more years, but it's already happening by leaps and bounds.
More love? Always.
Thanks be to God


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this, and for your comments about Mom and Dad. You "get them," too.