Three years into my tenure as Superintendent of Joplin Schools, an EF-5 tornado ripped through our town. Packing winds in excess of 200 mph, the Joplin Tornado is one of the most documented and thoroughly studied natural disasters in recent history. The Weather Channel classified the Joplin Tornado as the most costly and the 5th most devastating tornado in U.S. history. The implications of the research into this event resulted in changes to FEMA policy, school safety protocol, facility design, emergency planning, mental health, community engagement, and communications.
There have been many practical lessons learned from our tragedy that continue to benefit communities and organizations across the country. It is also true that each of us who were close to the disaster learned unique lessons based on our own personal experiences – lessons learned that will not easily be forgotten. The following quote probably best sums up where so many of us were in the days, weeks, months, and years following our disaster.
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” – Arthur Golden
I can only speak for myself, but I’m guessing many others had the same experience that I had during our time of adversity. The mental, physical, and emotional toughness needed to run the recovery marathon is significant to say the least. It tests your limits. The cliché that we live in a small world may be overused, but it is true nonetheless. No matter where I go, I meet people who continue to express their thoughts, prayers, and on-going concern for Joplin. I also have the privilege of meeting many people who personally participated in our recovery efforts in the months and years following 5.22.11.
During that difficult time, I have so many memories of personal giving. Giving that came by way of children supporting our kids in Joplin. Giving by too many organizations to even count to help those who had lost so much. Giving by countries and individuals from around the globe. They didn’t have to, but they did. The most powerful lesson I will never unlearn is that in spite of the craziness of the world in which we live, there is still a lot of good to celebrate. The “love thy neighbor” spirit that I witnessed during our time of need greatly expanded my appreciation for the breadth of compassion that continues to quietly exist in this world.