I hesitated on writing this article. I wrestled with myself on this for hours; after I bodyslammed me through my kitchen table after I took myself by my hair and smashed my face into the bathroom mirror, and then me came out of nowhere, grabbed my hand, and put it down the active garbage disposal, I decided that if I lived it, I can talk about it. The intent of this article is to correlate the two events without making myself culpable. It’s for you. And before I begin, I’m going to make a note to myself right here that says “maybe there are things that you need to get off of your chest and this is an appropriate way of doing it. Maybe this is how you can cope.” In relating these events, I hope to inspire feelings of hope and resiliency… or, at least as much as possible while talking about zombies.
May 22nd, or a zombie apocalypse:
It could happen on the most unpredictable of days. A day that begins like every other day; for you, it begins with breakfast. For me, it begins with a hangover and a dog’s bladder about to rupture in my face. My dog, like me, drinks more on the weekends. The only problem is that if he stays up all night drinking from his water bowl, he’s going to wake me up by dancing on my pillow sometime between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. If I stay up all night drinking from my “water bowl”, I want to sleep until noon, and it hurts my head to get out of bed before that.
It could happen at the most unpredictable time. It could happen when you finally let your guard down to your new neighbor and introduce yourself. He’s heard you playing guitar, and wants to jam together sometime. Maybe you get all cocky and talk yourself up like you’re some type of BB King, and then maybe he tells you he toured the east coast playing bass for a band that opened for BB King in the 1980’s. Maybe you don’t want to talk to him anymore. Maybe you don’t ever have the chance.
It could happen to anyone you know. It could happen to someone that you saw at the grocery store yesterday for the first time in years. You swear you’ll call them for lunch this week. It could happen to someone that would shape and change your life for forever, had you simply had the opportunity meet them. Someone you consider a great friend, maybe a best friend, can be trapped somewhere and their outlook for surviving the day could be bleak at best. Maybe you’ve decided to look up someone you were unkind to in Jr. High school to apologize and salvage a friendship. Maybe, in the blink of an eye, it’s too late.
And when it does happen, it’s hell… maybe even worse.
Having been right in the thick of things on May 22nd, 2011, I was able to witness something incredible. It wasn’t an F-5 tornado, it wasn’t cars on top of houses, it wasn’t the fact that the town I’ve lived in for five years was completely destroyed; it was people helping people. Friends helping friends. Strangers helping strangers. Civilians from states away driving through the night to help a town they’d never set foot in. People calling out names of people they’ve never met and they’ll never know.
Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr describes this as “the miracle of the human spirit“. I respectfully disagree. Miracles, by their definition, are considered divine. I’d say it was more like the response of the human spirit. I knew something terrible had happened, because I had watched it from just a few blocks away, and I didn’t go towards the city to survey damage. Moments after the tornado passed, I drove as far as I could, I got out, and I started running towards familiar territory. It was difficult to gain a sense of location; every landmark I had familiarized myself with around the city over the last five years was destroyed and not visible whatsoever. I knew the general area I was in, but suddenly, I had no sense of direction. My north and south wasn’t working. I began to panic. I was running over power lines, hundred year old trees, nails, glass, picture frames, all pieces of perfectly comfortable lives scattered for miles and miles (up to 70+ in some instances). People with injuries everywhere around me. A woman sitting on her front porch smoking a cigarette, which was all that was left of her house, looked like her foot had been turned inside out, and tears streamed down her face. I gave her my hoodie to wrap her foot up and keep the rain and any infection at bay for the moment; she said her stash of marijuana had been blown away and wondered if I had any. People screaming out for help; names, pets, calling for people to help lift debris, calling for health care professionals. People with clothes literally ripped off of their bodies, missing shirts and shoes wandered aimlessly without speaking. I did everything I could. I met up with a first responder and his friend who was with him, and we literally lifted a man’s own house off of him so he could get out. I’m a little guy and I was lifting things I had no business lifting. In fact, the first responder and myself lifted a woman that was probably 400 pounds clean off the ground and loaded her into the back of a truck, to be transported to the hospital. We held hands with complete strangers, only to watch them pass on to the other side. We found some people already passed away on arrival. It was overstimulating, and I wasn’t prepared.
It wasn’t heroic, it wasn’t a miracle, it wasn’t divine, it was simply a natural response. However, it was definitely hell on earth.
What seemed like an event so big it would be impossible to recover from actually spawned some of the most beautiful and fruitful relationships and life lessons one could ever learn. Oftentimes, I think to myself “ you know, I kind of want someone to shoot me. In the leg or arm, nowhere vital, just to see how I would respond to the pain. Maybe, I would even need to go through some type of physical rehabilitation. It would be a good measuring stick as to how well I am able to overcome adversity”. The city of Joplin was riddled with enough metaphorical bullets to make an infantry supply bunker go dry, and the way we responded was so encouraging.
If you had seen this city one day after the tornado, and compared it to present-day Joplin, you would literally soil your britches. It’s much more clean. So many houses have been rebuilt, or new ones built from the ground up, and people are slowly moseying back into city limits. Stores are reopening, and new stores are breaking ground and opening doors. Trees are growing leaves, birds are singing, even the rabbits are reproducing. In fact, I work right in the middle of the city on one of the busiest streets, a good ways away from residential areas, and I have two baby bunnies that found their way to a group of bushes and plants just outside my office window. They come out every day, eat some grass, drink from the water bowl I provided them, and go back to sleep. Of course, they don’t understand that they are a sign of life; a sign of hope springing up from a city that I personally thought would never make a comeback. I literally thought Joplin would just have to pack up and GTFO. I am elated that I was wrong.
The connection I’d like to make between Joplin and the zombie apocalypse is simple: We are a resilient being. We are strong beyond what we think we are capable of being. We are compassionate and our hearts are rewarded accordingly. We can stare into the face of adversity without blinking. We can conquer obstacles that we can’t see the end of. We are human. WE WILL BE FINE. WE WILL BE BACK. The earth has a history of resetting itself, and the latest craze is all about global warming, rapid resource consumption, overpopulation, blah blah blah (a biological phenomena fits right in line with all of these theories)… But humans consistently survive.
It took us a while, undoubtedly. It took a lot of work: a lot of machines, a lot of physical labor, a lot of paperwork… but it also took people handing out bottles of water. It took people cooking meals and giving them away for free. Everyone had a role, and even though we still have a ways to go (our high school students are still going to attend class inside the mall), we freaking got it done. The most seemingly impossible scenario I could ever imagine has been transformed into the most amazing story ever known.
My hope for the post zombie apocalypse recovery and response is that we will take a page out of this story. We will see that the resiliency is not beyond our means. You’ll see sights you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemies. You’ll hear things that you’ll never be able to get out of your head. Let’s be serious, rotting flesh? You may never get rid of that smell. But, we will see that nothing is impossible, even when everything has been ripped from your loving arms and life as you knew it will never be the same. We will see that if we take that page out of the incredible book Joplin has written, we will get it done too.
Joplin High School, one year later. (USANews)