Sunday, May 26, 2013

As Far as the Eye Can See

   As you can tell, I haven't found anything blog-worthy in quite some time.  Nothing has really jumped out at me as anything that would matter to anyone but the few little people in my little world. Sure, there have been birthdays and holidays, skinned knees and lost teeth, even a Kindergarten graduation. These are all moments I cherish, but none have impacted me the way today's voyage to what they are calling "Ground Zero" in Moore, Oklahoma.

Veteran Park, Moore, OK
   With shovels and rakes in hand, a Camelback full of water, and a sturdy pair of gloves, I went to Moore, Oklahoma to do...anything. Something. Something besides nothing.  My friend Jennifer, her husband, and I started at Veteran Park on 12th street where the now infamous statue of soldiers still stands with nothing but rubble, debris, and mangled playground equipment behind it.  We weren't sure what the plan was or what we could do so we walked up to the first person that looked like he knew what he was doing and just said, "We're here to help. What can we do?"  He had come with a group of his friends from Arkansas and after razzing us just a tad and pointing to his Razorback flag, he pointed in the general direction of what used to be a housing addition.  We grabbed our gear and headed East just as Air Force One flew over our heads. We were within just a few miles of the President but that didn't matter. We had a job to do.

    We just started walking. Like piles of snow mounded and moved after a snowstorm, piles and piles of what used to be homes and belongings lined the streets. Where did we start? How could we make a difference? Again, we found some people in matching shirts and decided they looked somewhat organized so after filling out a form promising not to sue them and getting Tetanus shots all around, we just....dug in. Bricks in one pile, lumber and framing in another. Salvageable items in the blue bin. Bank statements and billing papers in the white bucket. In all the unrecognizable debris, however, I managed to save a lady's string of beads, a few silver necklaces, a picture or two, a baby's book, and Air Force memorabilia. They were just small tokens and there's a good chance some of it didn't even belong to the person whose living room I was standing in, but it was something. 
   After working for an hour or so, church groups started arriving to the area so we decided it was getting a little too crowded. We made our way back to Veteran Park and helped by driving around with boxes of hot dogs, drinks, and chips. Thing was, there were ten other people doing the exact same thing. What a wonderful problem to have: there were so many people that just wanted to do something - anything! - that we were worked out of another job.  Back to the drawing board.
     We decided to head back West to the other side of the park where there was less crowding.  Again we walked along the streets lined with piles of rubble, addresses spray painted on the fronts of homes and "STAY OUT" signs posted on what used to be laundry room doors. We saw some individuals working in a lot that we could tell hadn't been helped much and were informed that the owners were on site as well.  We got to work hauling away two-by-fours with nails jutting  out of each side, windows, doors, bathroom tile; we began making our own "snow pile" after the storm.  Every so often we'd come across something in tact - a vase, a living potted plant, a baseball card, Tupperware. The female owner, Wendy, kept some and tossed some.   It's hard to imagine standing in the place that used to be your home and watching strangers pick through your stuff, but they seemed grateful for the help so we kept on.

The view from Wendy's "backdoor"

   A few lighter moments occurred in the chaos as well, though. Wendy's husband had an upbeat attitude, announcing, "Yard Sale! Everything must go!" and directing our attention to his beloved smoker under the broken walls of their garage. "Save the smoker, forget the rest!"  More mementos found - a ceramic lamb pin cushion, untouched; cowboy boots, more Tupperware (that's some strong stuff!). Jennifer and I came across a huge pile of quarters in what was a child's room. We stopped jerking on the bathroom door that was lying there to gather as many as we could and take them to Wendy's growing pile of belongings.  And then among the broken mirrors and obliterated wooden cabinets, a small package of Sponge Bob crabby patties!  I decided three things could survive the end of the world - Twinkies, cockroaches, and Crabby Patties.  I also watched as two gentlemen carried a door to the pile that still had a black lacy bra hanging from the knob. As they tossed it over their heads, the bra hung up on the guy's hat and fell over his eyes. He laughed and Wendy laughed too. It was a welcome sight.
    We worked there for about three hours or so, happy to see progress being made. After making it out with only a small scratch on my leg and taking insulation to the face, we decided to check in on Jennifer's husband, Trey.  By phone, she asked him where he was and if he wanted to come this way and his reply: "I would but Bob Stoops is using my wheelbarrow!"  Forget Obama, Bob Stoops was there!! Haha! 
    Getting ready to go, we stopped and looked up the hill at what used to be Briarwood Elementary school. A hundred yards to the North a building stood strongly, relatively untouched. I was in awe of the definable path the twister took. It was as if someone took a gigantic lawn mower and - vrrrrrrp - just mowed a swatch through the middle of town. We saw slabs of house-shaped concrete stripped bare, not even a scrap of tile or carpet to be seen, and literally a hundred yards over, houses remained in tact. I was completely baffled and humbled by the power of mother nature.
    I left "Ground Zero" a different person than when I came. You never know. You just....never know. I'm so glad I went. I'm going back again tomorrow and here's why.  Passing the homeowner, I extended my hand to shake his and wish him luck.  He grabbed it and pulled me in for a heartfelt bear hug and thanked me profusely. There was no need, though. I feel indebted to him for allowing me to be a part of something bigger than myself, for enabling me to do what people do best in situations like these: help.

Found at the foot of a debris pile

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