It’s been three years, this month, since Joplin was hit by an EF5 tornado. Much has been done to restore this town and community. Houses and businesses have been rebuilt, with more in process. The mountains of debris are gone. A grassy green knoll marks the spot where St John’s Hospital once stood. The new Irving Elementary School stands nearby as a testament to hope and life going on while south of I-44 the new hospital is nearing completion.
Most days, I move through the tornado zone, where I happen to live, and note the progress, the rebuilding, the new businesses. Occasionally, my eyes linger on a misshapen tree or an empty lot, and I remember what happened. My first for today was about allowing myself to remember not the tornado but the people whose lives were lost that day and their families and friends who miss them still. I participated in the Walk of Silence.
As far as I know, this is the first year for the walk. Since the tornado there have been many memorial events around the May 22 date. Last year there was a memorial run, which is being held again in the morning. The Walk of Silence was added for those of us who don’t run. Lining Joplin Street, from 9th to 20th Streets, are 161 banners, honoring those who died. Each banner has one name printed on it.
Hundreds of people gathered at 7:00 pm at Memorial Hall, at 9th and Joplin, to walk respectfully and silently down that corridor of banners. Greg and our grandson, Dayan, joined me in this time of remembrance. As we waited quietly to begin, I thought about those I knew who died that day. I really wanted the walk to be about remembering their lives, not about how they died.
As we moved silently down Joplin Street, and I caught sight of the banners disappearing down the long avenue, that intention failed me. It was impossible to see all the names and not feel strong emotion, old and fresh grief, rising for the loss of life. Name after name, representing moms, dads, children, grandparents. I remembered. This one died in a church. This one died with her brother, clutched tightly in the arms of her daddy, who also perished. This courageous man died trying to protect others. This one was a realtor. This one was a realtor’s son. And this one was my friend. At one point, the air was so heavy with emotion that Dayan and I locked eyes and he reached over to pat my back.
Because I don’t want to just remember how my friend, Gregan, died, I also choose to remember how he lived. He was a good man, with a gracious heart. He cared for and adored his wife. He loved his son and daughter and raised them to adulthood. He enjoyed nature walks and camping and quiet dinners. I don’t think I ever saw Gregan without a smile on his face. Thinking about his smile made me smile also. Something loosened around my heart and I remembered, too, the impact these dearly departed have continued to have on the community, and on their loved ones, and on me. And they would not have us linger long, stuck in time, at their moment of passing, but desire us to carry their memories forward with us as we live, really live, grateful for them and for the joy their lives brought. I am grateful.