A Very Tall Cloud, the Joplin Tornado, the Eventual Graduation and the Rebuilding of Everything: Everyday Magic, Day 464

On May 21st, Daniel quasi-graduated from Bethel College, meaning he walked in cap and gown with the others but still had an incomplete to finish. During the ceremony, we noticed an outrageously high cloud were the east, towering in a way we had never seen before. What we thought was just an oddity of weather was actually the backside of the storm that spawned the F5 Joplin tornado that left over 150 people dead and something like 8,000 buildings and homes destroyed. One of those homes belonged to our aunt and uncle, Edna and Murle who were, thankfully, in Iowa that weekend.

Today we visited Edna and Murle in their new home north of Joplin along with her daughter Dianne and family before taking a drive south to see the destruction. Block after block, the trees told the story along with hundreds of new homes in various stages of construction and the occasion small stone house left without windows or roof. The trees were spun into shapes I’d never seen before, curled or snapped, all leaning one way or left inverted, roots flung upward, in the side of the street. The high school was leveled, various floors stacked on themselves; Edna and Murle’s church was completely gone’ and we even saw the infamous hospital — a five or six-story building moved 4-6 inches, its windows blown out and edges ruffled or torn.

While I don’t mean to minimize the destruction and loss that both brought together the Joplin community and people from throughout the world as well as broke many people’s hearts and lives, I can’t help thinking about how far and close May 21st is now. A little over seven months later, and it’s astonishing how many new houses are finished or getting close to final trim or sheet-rocking or roofing. At the same time, I listened to our cousin explain how much this tornado changed the lives of those affected forever.

Edna and Murle love their new home, furnished with much of what was in their tornado-shaken house. Sitting around the table for lunch, catching one another up on family news (our end of the table) or talking about the atrocities the U.S. inflicted on Native people (the much older people at the end of the table), I was reminded of how normalcy prevails. Later, walking in what was the backyard of Edna and Murle’s old house, we found a few marbles from Ken’s grandmother’s collection along with a small plastic Spiderman. The grass was still largely green, the trees sloping down to what was once the thick woods were stripped and tangled, fragments of their former selves, but I have no doubt most will leaf out come spring. And it’s worth mentioning that Daniel just — a few weeks ago — finished the albatross of his incomplete, now officially graduating.

Driving east from Joplin to spend Christmas with Ken’s sister and family, I thought about how we’re always crossing over, what’s impossible finally finished or just begun, what’s lost showing itself anew. Wishing you all a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and simply a lovely turning of one night toward another day.


Graduation Wrapped In Weather: Everyday Magic, Days 328-330

It’s hard to say where I’ve been, and so it’s hard to say where I’m going, but I know this: I’ve seen and am seeing some weather. My theory is that the combination of the rapture-ready folks, Oprah’s finale, karma, climate change and seasonal thunder (literally) all converged this weekend, spilling over into today.

To get more specific, the heat was on Saturday as we shlepped around Wichita, first getting thoroughly lost (mainly because I was driving while on the phone with Natalie and her airline). Turns out that a big storm in Minnesota blasted out some of Delta airline’s electricity, and Natalie was stuck for hours in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport with nowhere to go. Her early morning flight was canceled, she was sent home to try again on Sunday while my mom, Forest and I finally made our way to set up for Daniel’s graduation soiree at a friend’s house in Wichita. Within hours, Natalie called to say St. Paul was under a tornado watch, and then a warning. Being a Kansan kid, she went outside for a better view.

Fast-forward to later that night, an enormous amount of Lebanese food consumed by a herd of young adults, plus fascinating conversations on the state of the soul and the world (not surprisingly considering it was a party of Lebanese Orthodox, Evangelical Christians, Mennonites and Jews). We parked ourselves in hotel rooms in Northeast Wichita, turned on TV and computer, and voila! A line of very likely tornadoes was heading to our place in Lawrence. At the same time, Delta airlines canceled Natalie’s Sunday morning flight to watch her brother graduate, and Lady Gaga had a near nipple disfunction on Saturday Night Live. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

After getting to sleep very late (all that storm tracking, airline wrangling and Gaga gaga-ing, plus phoning and facebook-chatting with neighbors and friends to ensure our mutual safety), we watched Daniel generic cialis overnight shipping graduate on Sunday. The humidity was up, the air was electric, and to the far east, we could see a very unusual storm, outrageously tall. We would find out later this storm was on its way to Joplin, MO. In the meantime, Daniel and 91 others marched through the line of faculty, sat in an orderly fashion, and listened to a fascinating graduation talk by a local girl who became a federal judge on the unpredictability of following your life’s work.

Afterwards, and in the days since, we’ve been on the phone and internet often, tracking storms past and future, and especially the loss of our uncle and aunt’s home in Joplin (walls still up, but rain coming in; deep freeze still standing but garage around it vanished).

While our son has graduated college — something beyond the beyond of what I could have imagined when he was flipping out one afternoon while in fifth grade — there’s no graduating from living in the real weather of our lives. Just this afternoon, I drove my mother to the airport through a panorama of blue sky, overcast sky, dark front of a storm, greenish spread of clouds and the consequent driving rain, wind, hail and lightning. Then I weeded a garden in the drizzle, quiet between storms.

Now I write in this compressed space while we pray for people in Oklahoma, and Southern Kansas, my son calls his friends in Norman to make sure they’re okay, and we get ready to make plans to go to Joplin to help our family. The heavens billow, the hail forms and drops, the ropey tornadoes land and widen…..or not. We talk about the weather not just because we lack imagination or when the weather is dramatic. The weather is metaphor for and literally our lives, where we live. Sometimes the weather of our lives just makes our lives show up more vividly.

Cleaning Up: Everyday Magic, Day 300

I have a secret that’s even surprises me: I love cleaning. You wouldn’t know it if you wandered through my house or rode in my car, but it’s true. There’s something about making dirt, clutter, disarray and unruliness vanish that does my heart good when a corner, drawer or room comes to order. If I play the right music (Joni Mitchell was made for cleaning out closets), I’m downright calm and joyful the whole time.

This weekend, between napping and reading magazines, I’m cleaning, Ken too (nothing more sexy than a man with broom or mop). With the temperatures low, the animals splaying themselves on the floor of whatever room we’re in, and the crockpot doing its magic, it just feels like time. I’m back from a whole lot of travel and work, starting with the Goddard residency in February that morphed into Poet Laureati, another Goddard residency, and the insanity some like to call “April” that finally dissolved in the deep pockets of love at Brave Voice.

There’s the recent past, but there’s also the recent future. Daniel will be moving back into this house in a wee bit over a week. My mom is coming on Friday. Between these two happinesses, Daniel is graduating. It’s his rite of passage to do whatever they do at Bethel during graduation (I think a large rock is involved); it’s my rite of passage to scrub the stove and excavate Forest’s room so that it can be Daniel’s room too.

So here’s for what we can do with large black plastic bags, boxes, vacuum cleaners, carpet stain recover and blasting “He Played Real Good For Free” on a cold Sunday afternoon