After the Storm

After the Storm
The unflagging spirit of humanity at work, in the wake of sudden disaster

Tornado Alley has always been around since the dawn of time, and its’ natural and violent spawn, like regular clockwork, always comes sweeping down on the plains of Oklahoma and Kansas every spring, erasing lives from the face of the earth with nary a concern for the tears and wreckage left behind in its path of destruction. And then, after the storm, invariably comes the frantic search for survivors and the desperate effort to stay alive, which is then succeeded by the sight of broken families and towns picking up the pieces and moving on. There, however, is yet another constant about Tornado Alley: the refusal of the surviving residents to bow down to the mysterious yet powerful workings of Mother Nature.

Such scenes like the above occur in the midwestern United States every year without fail, and they stand as a testament to the oft-wrathful disposition of Earth’s climate. The annual losses the region suffers every year have been lamented to no end, and many have questioned the wisdom of continuing to reside in a vast region known for its frequent tornado outbreaks. And for the media, such scenes of great tragedy will always serve to compel massive, if fleeting coverage of horror and heroism in the midst of disaster. To them, Tornado Alley serves as a recurring, physical example of their unofficial “if it bleeds, it leads” credo.

In the wake of such devastation also comes the search for answers to questions like, why did we not get enough warning? Why didn’t they mandate the construction of shelters and basements everywhere in the Alley? And so on.  Every spring usually brings variations on the same theme, and more ink and bandwidth is usually accorded to covering the meatier aspects of the story, such as the meteorologists’ failed predictions and the government’s inability to provide prompt relief in the aftermath. The transition from covering stories of heroism and love to covering stories of negligence and corruption usually does not take very long, either.

And that’s where they’re missing the real story. The real story is humanity’s resilience in the face of constant tragedy, our determination to grit our teeth and rebuild, and our unceasing desire to keep on living our lives as if nothing had happened in the preceding hours and days. From Boston, Massachusetts, to Sendai, Japan, from Mumbai, India, to Moore, Oklahoma, we are always in constant motion, always taking blows on the chin from the worst of humanity and nature, and shaking it off with renewed vigor and faith. For every story about immoral looters or inept bureaucrats, there are five stories of bravery or sacrifice – maybe even more than just five.

That story showed up last week, in Moore, Oklahoma, where a devastating EF-5 tornado ripped through the southern suburbs of Oklahoma City and took the lives of 24 residents. The world’s eyes turned to the city, and to the views and sounds of rescuers and residents saving lives and delivering emergency supplies. We heard reports about the terrifying plight of the town’s two grade schools, and feared for the worst. It didn’t happen – and it was all due to the heroism and fearlessness of the schools’ faculty and the town’s firefighters. We were told about teachers throwing their bodies over the children and staffers quickly putting them under the sturdiest parts of the school buildings. And the same was done at the local hospital, too.

Some lives were lost, unfortunately, including some children and adults at Plaza Towers Elementary School. But the vast majority of residents survived – and what’s more, they actually survived the wrath of an EF-5 tornado. It’s a genuine miracle more lives weren’t lost that day, especially given the fact the tornado tore through the suburbs just south of Oklahoma City. And yet, despite having faced something no sane human being would ever want to face again, the residents of Moore, Oklahoma chose to return to their wrecked houses instead and assume the tedious but determined task of cleaning up and rebuilding.

This is humanity, in a nutshell: we face natural and man-made disasters head on the same way we face life every day, and we rebuild our lives and our world with astonishing alacrity and speed. In the wake of disaster, we automatically come together as one and help each other in all sorts of ways, consistently showing the best of humanity in the process. The worst of humanity also comes through, but what gives us hope for the future is the undeniable fact that the best parts of humanity can easily overwhelm the worst of humanity on most days.

Eventually, once the klieg lights go off and the volunteers return to their homes, the survivors are left alone to continue the hard work they started immediately after the storm. They don’t stop for anything – and they never stop, which is as pure an example of unflagging spirit that can be mustered here. All of this will take place in the background, even as the national media begins its next pivot over to the next big scandal or tragedy. And then, at that point our natural instinct for moving on will finally kick in, borne out of knowledge that Moore, Oklahoma will recover, just as a thousand different towns recovered quietly in the wake of disaster, always guided by the best of what humanity has to offer.

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