The Strength of Community

by Tamara A.

I spent the past weekend in my home state of Missouri.  I had a great time with my family and participating in all of the wedding festivities for one of my best friends that I have known since about the age of six.  While I was having a lot of fun with everyone, I was overwhelmed by the news flashes and updates that were pouring in from Joplin.  Clearly, the whole country has been aware of the absolutely brutal beating that this city took from the F5 tornado over a week ago.  However, Missouri has taken a more personal approach to the tragedy since it happened within our own borders.  That’s our family affected.

Joplin Landscape taken from csmonitor.comAs I’m sure most of the population has seen, little Joplin has large stretches that were just flattened by the storm.  It’s incredible what damages the weather can cause to such a civilization.  I don’t know about you, but when I think about everything that humans have learned, discovered and achieved in our existence, it’s unbelievable that we can still be knocked so hard on our asses by nature.  And knocked on our asses we have been this tornado season so far.  Already in 2011, over 520 people have been killed as a result of tornadoes ripping through the land.  With Joplin alone accounting for about 140 of these deaths (and 43 people still missing), it is fair to say that this little town has been rocked.  The difference in the Missouri coverage versus that I have read/seen in Denver was the personal aspect: identifying individual victims, hearing story after story, and seeing these faces alternating between being tear-stained for the destruction and elation in realizing that their family members were found.  Their accounts are powerful.

Amidst all the struggle and attempts to collect themselves, Joplin took a small breather on Sunday to listen to their honored guest, President Obama, speak.  Say what you want about his visit (glad he came, he should have been there sooner, he should not distract from clean up efforts, etc.)  but I find it important that he showed up in this small community to show the support that he has and the country has for them.  Obama’s visit and the encouragement that other Americans are giving to Joplin help in establishing the United States as a larger community, a country supportive of all its citizens.  And we are lucky that we have that.

Tragedy of any kind is difficult to deal with and to understand.  As Obama put it,

The question that weighs on us at a time like this: Why?…Why our town? Why our home? Why my son, or husband, or wife, or sister, or friend? Why? We do not have the capacity to answer…But that does not mean we are powerless in the face of adversity. How we respond when the storm strikes is up to us.  How we live in the aftermath of tragedy and heartache, that’s within our control.  And it’s in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place.

And that can be the silver lining.  Even though we are thrown curve balls in life and we feel helpless or hopeless, it is in these moments that our strength and the strength of a united community shine through.  I am amazed what a person is capable of, but more importantly, I am stunned what a group of people unified with a single goal is capable of.  The power of community is simply astonishing.  Whether it is a city of 50,000 rebuilding their town, a suburb recovering from a high school shooting, a war-torn country trying to boost their economy or a village building a school better educate their children, it takes the heart and soul of an entire community to accomplish these.

Quote and numbers taken from A.G. Sulzberger’s article “Visiting Joplin, Obama Offers Familiar Message of Comfort” in the Monday May 30 edition of the New York Times.  Photo taken from csmonitor.com

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