It’s the five year anniversary of the Greensburg tornado. I was in Greensburg a few days after it hit to do some stories for a radio show, and saw the destruction first hand. At the time I couldn’t imagine anything like it ever happening again. Then the Joplin tornado hit last year.
Prior to Greensburg, I had seen tornado damage, but nothing on that scale. I guess there hadn’t been anything on that scale, so there’s no way I could have seen it. As I watched people sift through the remains of their material lives, I was reminded of just how tenuous things are for all of us.
People often say, “Things don’t matter.” And, compared to people we love, of course that’s right. But, you and I both know, things do matter. The things we can’t replace, the gifts from people we love, the items once held and used by loved ones now gone, the things that hold some of our memory energy. Those things do matter.
In Greensburg, and then in Joplin, I watched people sort through the flotsam and jetsam of life – the brightly colored plastic toys that can easily be replaced and such; but also through the things that do matter – like photos of children playing with those toys. My heart broke for them. I could not put myself in their shoes. I understand it’s a choice you don’t have when faced with the situation. You simply do what you need to do. And people rise, in ways you can’t imagine, to face the challenge.
But I realized something more than that – something that shocked me about myself. I couldn’t even put myself in the place of the volunteers. People came from all over the country to help people sort through the remains of their materials lives, to salvage what was possible, to remove what wasn’t, to offer comfort. I couldn’t put myself there mentally.
I understand this does not make me look like a caring person. But, it is true nonetheless. The strength those volunteers have, much less those affected, is something that doesn’t live in me. I admire it in others. I pray I never have to search for it in myself.
I’m so thankful others arrived in Greensburg, Joplin and other cities when needed. They astonish me with their ability to stare down the destruction, to help people start to rebuild lives. People who willingly walk into that pain, and gently lessen it, are gifted with abilities I don’t have. Such crises demonstrate the best of our human natures. At least for many people. For some of us, our natures are lacking. We marvel at what others can do as we stand on the sidelines, trying to hold tightly to things we know can slip through our hands at any moment.