Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A little perspective

I love living in a place that has 4 seasons. Even though my car serves alternately as an oven and a freezer, and everyone in our family has to have two entire wardrobes (and there are many days where we need to access both of them) I love it.

A few months ago, we were experiencing one of the snowiest winters I've ever seen, along with some bitter cold. Facebook was awash with complains about missing the sun, and oh I'm freezing, and where's summer? Now summer's really gearing up. We've had about a week of temperatures in the 90s. And guess what? I open up Facebook to choruses of I'm melting and this is miserable and where's the breeze? This must be where the adjective "fairweather" came from.

I do get it. It's hot. If you're sitting at the ballpark watching your kids, or walking your dog, or weeding your garden, you're going to be uncomfortable. But before you get geared up to complain about it, let me offer you some perspective.

Last week, my friend Amy and I made the hour drive to Joplin, Missouri. I'm sure you know that much of Joplin was destroyed by a tornado that killed well over a hundred people. It was a week and a half later and we weren't sure what we would do, we just knew we wanted to help. We ended up working with a Lutheran church that was just outside the path of damage. We loaded up the car with coolers filled with cold Gatorade and water, and set out to give them to anyone who looked thirsty. It was about 96 degrees out, and we started in the worst part of the day, midafternoon.

I will not attempt to describe the damage we saw, because I'm incompetent to do the horror justice. Just know that whatever pictures you've seen, it's worse. Thousands of homes. Just meditate on that for a minute. Thousands. If you're familiar with NWA, a comparison of the length of the damaged area would be like driving from the 6th Street exit on I540 in Fayetteville to the Wagon Wheel exit in between Springdale and Rogers--about 13 miles.
It keeps going and going as far as you can see. We drove for over 3 hours, never going to the same place twice, and still didn't see the end of it.

I will tell you what we did see, though. We saw homeowners out in that heat (no shade, because nothing's left standing) combing through debris to find anything salvageable. We found a family trying to find some decorative items in the rubble of their elderly mother's home so she could feel somewhat at home in her new apartment despite the fact that they were so tired they could barely stand. We saw volunteers who had taken off work to spend 12 hours a day in the sun lifting splintered boards, window panes, and pieces of roof so they could prepare the lots of complete strangers to be bulldozed. We saw electricians sweltering while they raced to restore power to the fortunate homes that are still standing. We saw teenagers wandering in their neighborhoods, wanting to be close to home but not having them anymore.

Here's what every single person we came in contact with had in common: they were all VERY hot. They were all VERY thirsty. And they were all very, very happy to be there. The volunteers were cheerful and kind. The workers were all grateful for something cold to drink. The victims of the tornado, even the ones who lost every single thing they had, insisted that they were lucky, blessed, better off than others.

And do you know what NONE of them did? Not one of them complained about the heat.

That day in Joplin gave me tremendous perspective. I am so much more aware of how easily everything you value can be gone in a heartbeat, but also of how resilient people can be if they choose to. I may have to be hot a lot this summer, and I may not love it, but I can take it.