The Scars That Shape Us

This past Friday, we remembered one of the most devastating tornadoes that struck our nation, running its finger of destruction through homes, businesses, and lives of those who both lived and worked there, and all those who were moved to respond.  Four years ago, on the evening of 22 May 2011, an EF-5 Tornado, one of the most destructive according to classification, ripped through the city of Joplin, MO.

To say that this storm affected our lives is an understatement.  At the time, I was serving as a member of the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) with AmeriCorps, responding to the Good Friday Tornadoes in St Louis that struck just a month before.  That evening, the great wheels of response started, as members of the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) and Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) began their journey through the night to arrive in the midst of the devastation.  The following morning, my team and the 20 other members of NCCC joined the second wave of ERT members to deploy.

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As a child, one of the movies that I watched time and time again (and is still one of my favorites) was Twister.  In it, one of the characters who has never experienced the wrath of nature asked the innocent question of what an EF-5 tornado was like.  Over the silence that fell across the table, one of the storm chasers responds, “The finger of God.”

The six mile path that cut its way through Joplin, over a mile wide at it’s widest point (according to the map of damage that I received before heading out into the field), is a vivid reminder of the force, the power, and the destruction caused by this force of nature.  Many claimed it to be an act of God. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. With winds reaching over 250 mph (some have told me they reached over 300 mph), the storm tossed vehicles, flattened structures, stripped the bark off trees, and turned lives upside down.

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Something happened in those first few weeks we stood on the ground.  We assisted with the Search and Rescue operations. Cleared unnamed streets. Began moving debris. Managed and led volunteers. Fell asleep exhausted. Laid awake unable to sleep because we knew what visions would be revealed in the dark of night. Cried. Mourned. And got up to face it each and every day.

This storm, that tornado left a scar that could be felt. We could see it each and every day out in the field. You can still see it today if you know what you’re looking for. But it reached much deeper than that. Lives were torn apart. Lost. Left amongst the ruins. Ripped apart by what we saw. You could feel it in each and every life of those who responded, those whose feet stood amid the destruction.

I see it more and more each year, in how we continue to live our lives.

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The AmeriCorps pledge states that “[we] will carry this commitment with [us] this year and beyond.” Many of us have continued to serve. Many of us will always serve. We have scattered across the nation and the globe, knowing that we have been shaped by these experiences. Shaped by this storm.

I still see the images. I won’t let them fade. I can’t. For, they are a part of me. They are a part of each of us.

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