Through strength and perseverance, a pride well earned.

May 22, 2021

When Joplin was ripped apart on that afternoon of Sunday, May 22, 2011 I was safe at home recovering from outpatient surgery.  It would take an agonizing four more days before I could do anything of value in town so I did the only thing I could at the time.  I scribbled together some words in editorial form to assist then editor Carol Stark.

From that week, these words:

“Three years ago at this time the funerals were barely over and cleanup continuing in the wake of the Hwy 243 and Iris Road tornado of May 11, 2008.

With the signs of that devastation still visible and its wounds still not fully healed, we now find ourselves enduring what was never imagined just three short years ago: something far, far worse.

It took less than half an hour for a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May to be transformed into a burning, living hell.

The shards of shattered glass, two-ton vehicles tossed like matchbox toys, trees stripped bare, buildings instantly turned into ruins, all became testaments to the fact that no matter how far advanced man’s technology, it is all miniscule in the path of a rampaging Mother Nature.

While it is already in the history books as the deadliest tornado in Missouri history, we feel (and we know) that it will also be written in those history books as our finest hour.

An hour when we, along with our surrounding area neighbors, did not falter, did not hesitate. An hour that while destruction was still being wreaked on Rangeline, survivors were already assisting victims on Maiden Lane. An hour that lasted long past the setting sun and well into its rising the morning next. An hour that saw a small, mid-western community show the world the very best of its best: its people.

We give a heartfelt, collective thank you to all who answered the call within those first critical hours and who continue on without concern for self as they render their assistance to whomever and wherever needed.

Our thoughts and prayers go to all the victims and their families, (their loss unimaginable to those of us spared). And while the devastation and pain cannot be ignored, we cannot be blind to the many accounts of the miracles of life now arising from the piles of hell.

We wish we could say, fear not, we’ve overcome worse. We can’t. For there has been no worse. But neither should we fear we shall not overcome. We will. For that there is no doubt.

And while the answers will be few and the questions many for the coming days, weeks and months there is one thing that is certain:

Come this next Sunday evening, the satellite trucks will be gone, the anchors will have flown back to their chairs on the coast, and the nation’s attention will have shifted on to the next catastrophe of the moment.

Come this next Sunday evening, we will still be here.

We, you, me, us, they, them, I…. all the words that make ‘us’, ‘us’ and Joplin the community she is.

We will be doing for our family, our friends, and our neighbors what we have always done: taking care of each other from the strength found within ourselves.”

For those of us alive that day our lives have been permanently divided between “pre” and “post” tornado.

When a loved one was still alive, or a house was still standing.  When that beautiful green canopy from trees decades old stood tall and proud.  When St. John’s was delivering life instead of triaging death.  When the cross in front of St. Mary’s still had a church.  When a trip to Dillon’s was no big deal.

So much gone, yet in the decade since, so much done.

Those satellite trucks did indeed move along but “we, you, me, us, they, them and I” never wavered.  We found that strength within ourselves and as the days turned to months and then to years we never stopped believing in “us”.

And while we shall never forget those taken from us, there is no shame in acknowledging just how much has been done.

On this ten-year remembrance of that most horrible of days, stand proud Joplin.

You’ve earned it.

Publisher note:  A version of this column appears in the May 22, 2021 edition of the Joplin GLobe


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