On May 21st, Daniel quasi-graduated from Bethel College, meaning he walked in cap and gown with the others but still had an incomplete to finish. During the ceremony, we noticed an outrageously high cloud were the east, towering in a way we had never seen before. What we thought was just an oddity of weather was actually the backside of the storm that spawned the F5 Joplin tornado that left over 150 people dead and something like 8,000 buildings and homes destroyed. One of those homes belonged to our aunt and uncle, Edna and Murle who were, thankfully, in Iowa that weekend.
Today we visited Edna and Murle in their new home north of Joplin along with her daughter Dianne and family before taking a drive south to see the destruction. Block after block, the trees told the story along with hundreds of new homes in various stages of construction and the occasion small stone house left without windows or roof. The trees were spun into shapes I’d never seen before, curled or snapped, all leaning one way or left inverted, roots flung upward, in the side of the street. The high school was leveled, various floors stacked on themselves; Edna and Murle’s church was completely gone’ and we even saw the infamous hospital — a five or six-story building moved 4-6 inches, its windows blown out and edges ruffled or torn.
While I don’t mean to minimize the destruction and loss that both brought together the Joplin community and people from throughout the world as well as broke many people’s hearts and lives, I can’t help thinking about how far and close May 21st is now. A little over seven months later, and it’s astonishing how many new houses are finished or getting close to final trim or sheet-rocking or roofing. At the same time, I listened to our cousin explain how much this tornado changed the lives of those affected forever.
Edna and Murle love their new home, furnished with much of what was in their tornado-shaken house. Sitting around the table for lunch, catching one another up on family news (our end of the table) or talking about the atrocities the U.S. inflicted on Native people (the much older people at the end of the table), I was reminded of how normalcy prevails. Later, walking in what was the backyard of Edna and Murle’s old house, we found a few marbles from Ken’s grandmother’s collection along with a small plastic Spiderman. The grass was still largely green, the trees sloping down to what was once the thick woods were stripped and tangled, fragments of their former selves, but I have no doubt most will leaf out come spring. And it’s worth mentioning that Daniel just — a few weeks ago — finished the albatross of his incomplete, now officially graduating.
Driving east from Joplin to spend Christmas with Ken’s sister and family, I thought about how we’re always crossing over, what’s impossible finally finished or just begun, what’s lost showing itself anew. Wishing you all a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and simply a lovely turning of one night toward another day.