When an EF-5 tornado hits any town, you can expect the damage that goes along with it, downed trees, power lines and damaged homes. On May 22nd that is exactly what happened in Joplin, a city of just over 50,000 in the southwestern corner of Missouri.
Storms formed over Kansas and rolled into Joplin giving its residents only 10 minutes advance warning to prepare them for what turned out to be one of the worst tornadoes in American History.
After visiting Joplin with a team from Tyler, I was both proud and confused at the same time at what I saw. The destruction was astounding and indescribable, but that was expected. Driving up and down the ravaged streets of Joplin, house after house displayed U.S. flags. Some hung from a makeshift pole saved from the storm, some from lumber hanging off the house and some from tree limbs or roots bent and twisted by the storm.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a proud American and proudly display a flag outside my home. When Veteran’s Day or Independence Day or any other holiday comes around I put my flag up for the day or for the entire weekend. It’s a way for me to show the veteran’s my respect or the pride that I have to live in this country, but I had a hard time understanding the flags all over the rubble of Joplin.
Think about it for a minute, you usually put your flag up in a prominent area, for all to see, out front even. None of us “proud Americans” would ever put a flag out by the road on a pile of limbs or lumber for the trash. Yet, house after house displayed the flag. Why?
I believe I realized what the answer is.
I believe the people of Joplin displayed ragged flags in odd locations because of the hope that those flags represented. Hope that in their country, people will help because it’s who they are. Hope that when the storm is over and the mess is cleaned up, they still live in a country where they can pick up the pieces that are left and start over.
“How often we fail to realize our good fortune in living in a country where happiness is more than a lack of tragedy.” ~Paul Sweeney
“If you take advantage of everything America has to offer, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.” ~Geraldine Ferraro
“I believe in America because we have great dreams – and because we have the opportunity to make those dreams come true.” ~Wendell L. Wilkie
“America has seen tough times before. We’ve always known how to get through them. And we’ve always believed our best days are ahead of us. I believe that still. But we must rise to the occasion, as we always have; change what must be changed; and make the future better than the past.” ~John McCain
I believe the people of Joplin understood and believed the same things about their hope in this country as the people quoted above. That in America your dreams do not end because of a natural or unnatural disaster.
I believe that given a fair chance the people of Joplin, MO can recover from this tragedy against all odds largely because of the spirit that lies within them. The American spirit lies within all Americans and is fueled by the opportunities and possibilities that the nation affords its members.
America is not nearly as much about the land or certainly the government as it is about the people, and specifically the spirit within those people. America is said to be a nation founded on a good idea. An idea to give people the freedoms in order to make a way for themselves.
Notice the distinction there, not that the government makes a way for the people or some organization funded by the government that makes a way for the people, but that the people, of themselves have the opportunity to make their own way, even in a devastating natural disaster such as in Joplin, MO.
A month from now, six months from now or a year from now we will have a better idea as to how the people of Joplin will respond in this tragedy. Some will have further opportunities to go to Joplin and see the recovery first-hand. Others will have the opportunity to go to Joplin and participate in the recovery and rebuilding process.
As bad as we, as Americans, feel like our government is or how our country has fallen, we still should recognize the opportunities afforded us just by our birthright as Americans. As well, if or when those opportunities are not afforded to Americans it likely will not be because some new government took them from the people, but because the people themselves failed to recognize and take advantage of those opportunities and in effect, gave those opportunities away.
Hopefully, the rest of the country can take a cue from the people of Joplin and realize as bad a tragedy as we may be in, fly the flag, as it represents the spirit within each of us, the spirit to overcome the adversity and take advantage of the opportunity.