>It has been a week and one day since I had been in Joplin, Missouri. A week and one day since leaving my fingerprints on the utter destruction that had laid before me. A week and one day since I had met Josephine and Gary and had asked if we could help them scour through Josephine’s once-standing house on Kentucky Avenue. It was in her joyful response of a yes that we began to dig and discover all that an F-5 tornado destroyed and left behind. Finding her favorite dolls and balls of yarn seemed to bring about the responses specifically reserved for Christmas. But, I suppose, in discovering the valuables that mean the most to you after such destruction, you can’t help but rediscover its worth and its meaning as a whole.
And these are the thoughts that I caught myself in. I was standing between a vanity set and a large cabinet and making eye contact with my surroundings: a bathtub in the front yard, the house with exposed insides that once held private stories, layers of tarp attempting to cover goods that were probably always covered and stored anyway. I can ever-so-slightly hear the creaking and rocking of a large piece of aluminum that had been tangled into the tree above. These thoughts and these sounds are sticking and protruding themselves into a part of myself that I have yet to discover; the part of me that sits separately in its corner. Perhaps it is the altruistic state of mind that sits so quietly and distant before it is poked out of place. Whatever it has been, it is teaching me that much of what I put my money and what I consider valuable truly contains no weight of value whatsoever.
I looked around at not only Josephine’s once-called home, but also at the entirety of Kentucky Avenue, and I could not picture what this neighborhood had looked like prior to the tornado. I saw trees that once stood strong, tall and powerful, tragically uprooted and turned onto their side. And I cried. I cried a lot, actually. I kept asking that pesky, rhetorical, over-repeated “Why?” that seems to come after such a scene, and if this was all real. I could not fathom how an act of nature made a city its playground. Nature not only expelled mayhem on humans, families and homes, but on nature itself. I had no words to really form (hence the week-and-one-day-late blog); I was word-frozen. I could only form one conclusion, and it is the same conclusion one gets to at the end of every missions trip or after encountering such a tragedy – I take everything for granted.
That statement alone can shift your world on its axis – its corrective axis, at that – and it makes you see, feel and touch life differently. It makes you appreciate the loving, overwhelming family that you still tangibly have, the bed that you sleep in, the closet full of clothing, the shoes that you wear and the buildings that you see while driving back into a still-standing city. It can be in these moments of the utter reality of your surroundings that life makes sense. One of those acknowledgments in how God created the Earth with a mere breath and human beings from the dirt. It’s these simplistic things that I have time and time again, over-complicated and, subconsciously, tried to understand them by taking my next paycheck and spending it on empty, unfulfilling valuables that serve no purpose in my life.
I am beginning to think – it is in its process of full understanding – that I have gotten a lot of things wrong. I’ve taken situations in an overdramatic tone or have underestimated them and missed the picture entirely. I pray and I hope that this doesn’t cease too quickly nor that it stops poking that part of me that cries to be truly altruistic or God’s hands and feet without question; not needing or searching for some form of praise.
I also pray that I not too quickly walk away from Kentucky Avenue, ravaged and sitting in its debris, because honestly, that is where I felt real for the first time in my life.