May 20th, 2013 is a benchmark day, one we’ll mark time by from now on. They’ll say “It was the month after that second F5 tornado hit Moore.” or “Nothing will grow in that spot since the F5.” and “He was born the year of the F5.”
When I report to the volunteer center in Moore I assume I will be assigned one of the cushier duties, organizing donations, distributing meals and water or making boxed lunches. I am not the most robust appearing individual. But no, they take one look at me, thrust a shovel toward me and announce “debris pick-up”! I don my work gloves and sun visor, exchange the shovel for a rake, and get the debris bags ready. I am assigned to work at Little River Park in Moore.
As I step down off the bus I stare out over the terrain and a feeling of utter hopelessness pours over me. We all feel it. How can the little we are able to do possibly make a difference? We stand and survey the landscape of splintered trees, bricks, metal, tattered clothing, insulation, broken furniture, boards, dirty toys and broken glass. With miles of debris ahead; there is nothing here that resembles a park.
Except for the large plastic jungle gym rising out of a massive mountain of rubble no one would recognize this as a place where children played the week before. Every tree is splintered; every home in the surrounding area is in ruins. No one is there now.
I rake piles of rubble, fill my big bags and deposit them onto one of the enormous piles of debris that line the landscape. This debris is so embedded, sticks, boards and metal sticking upright out of the ground, just layers and layers of it, some of which I can understand. But, I get the feeling I am raking layers from the 1999 tornado also.
I choose to think that our group and others like ours will be of help; I keep raking. Something shiny catches my attention; it is a rearview mirror. How far did this tattered mirror travel? Whose was it? What did its owner endure? And, did they make it? We’ve learned not to stay in our vehicles, but to get out and take cover elsewhere because a vehicle not only fails to protect you, but can kill you in a tornado.
I keep raking and something that looks like pale dirty flesh tumbles out of the pile. It’s a fatally injured Barbie. I know this is sacrilege in this part of the country, but I’ve never been a fan of hers-you don’t want to hear my rant. Seeing her here though, headless, her skirt torn and dirty, and missing a leg, I feel sadness for the little girl who wonders where she is. Maybe a tad of empathy for poor Barbie too. Most everything else here is hard to recognize.
These victims must start over in the most basic way.
Can you really grasp not having any clothes to wear or even a coffee for the next day? No cup to put it in? In 1985 I all but burned my condo down and the next day I had no clothes to wear. I do know how this feels. I remember the sinking feeling of wondering how to put my life back together and make a living at the same time.
Mother’s day at church our guest minister spoke of her childhood. Each day as she left for school her mother would shout out after her, “Mary Kathryn, go out and find your greatness!” Her mom knew small steps each day yield a river of strength and resilience. There is a time that each of us must reach down into the rubble and find our greatness. It waits there for our courage and resourcefulness to grasp it. These victims are reaching down to the bottom of their endurance.
Can you feel the horror and ache of families missing loved ones for days? A few years ago my beloved cat, Hootie, was missing for five days. I lost my mind. He was a cat. I cannot begin to know the heartache of that father whose child was taken from him while he prayed. Natalie Grant’s lyrics say it best, “This is how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.” Yes, this is how it feels-and you are different from then on.
Hope is often born of suffering. One news reporter showed us a huge pile of twisted rubble and metal; on closer inspection it proved to be multiple twisted vehicles-unrecognizable. Inside one of them a light still burned several days later. Sometimes greatness is just a flicker.
Oh God, we thank you for the gifts in our lives. Open our eyes to see them more clearly and help us to be willing to extend ourselves for those who have lost theirs. Move us from our comfort zone to do some good today. Wrap your arms around those sad families; hold them until they know it is you. Amen