Ours is a culture that takes both comfort and alarm from numbers. The tour guide who uses the earth’s circumference to reflect the total number of bricks used to contain the visitors. The newscaster who leads with a massacre’s totals, like a carney barker.
On May 22, an E5 tornado a mile wide roared into the town of Joplin, Missouri. One hundred and sixty one people were killed, 990 were injured. Some 7,000 homes were destroyed, another 850 damaged. Adding to the calamity, lead contamination has emerged as a significant issue—it’s estimated that some 1,500 structures are affected, adding 7.5 million dollars to already staggering reconstruction costs. Those are the numbers—some of them, at least. But so much associated with that storm defies the neat summing up.
A Sunday. Never a day that should reflect the rigors of the week past, or to come.
Every week should have two Sundays. For some, a day for church or relaxation. Visits with family, mowing springtime lawns, or running errands before the start of the week’s work demands. But for Joplin, it was a day that changed almost everything.
Does terror have a value? A depth comparable to an abyss? What about the death of a friend? Shredded heirlooms? Missing mementos from a life? What formula explains courage, or kindness? What number explains the desire to rebuild rather than leave? What numbers reflect the resignation to fate followed by a deep sigh, and then the orderly sifting of the past to make way for the future? These are the unknown and unknowable depths of the human heart and spirit. These are the gifts that define the very best of us.
Countless stories of heroism and kindness have emerged in the 26 weeks since that storm. Organizations and individuals have opened their homes and donated resources to help Joplin recover. People gave what they could. Carpenters and cooks and nurses and volunteers all gave their skills to help this town heal. The effort continued last night at the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis. Several dozen people came together on an unseasonably warm November evening to celebrate the launch of Storm Country: The Anthology. The book is a collaborative effort between the Missouri Writers Guild and the Joplin Writers Guild chapter, the Missouri Humanities Council and Mozark Press. Writers throughout the region submitted more than 337 essays, poems and short stories for consideration. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go toward books and learning materials for the Joplin School Libraries and Teacher Resource Center.
A handful of writers at the event stood at the podium to read from their work: stories of their own encounters with storms….stories of friends who faced the F5 in Joplin. It was an evening of generosity…and good will. Of acknowledging the suffering and frailty of our human condition. Of bearing witness. Offering hope. We are the stories we tell…the history we endure and remember. This anthology is a testament to memory. And the sale of these books will help equip a library. There is hope in that. Resilience. Courage.
You can help support this effort by purchasing copies of Storm Country: The Anthology. It’s available for $10 and you can find it on Amazon Books, The Missouri Writers Guild and it’s chapters, and other outlets.