A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Personal Note on Joplin, Missouri

This is not a personal blog and I don't intend to let it become one, but since I've been a little light on posting recently I wanted to take a personal moment to talk about Joplin, Missouri, my home town, which, unless you are totally oblivious to the news, has been devastated by what has just been upgraded to an EF-5 tornado..

The photo at left, or variants of it from different angles, has appeared on every US news network by now, as a symbol of the disaster. It may become the icon of the town's survival. That cross, the only thing still standing nearby and thus being seen as an inspiring symbol, used to be the front facade of Saint Mary's Catholic Church, my home parish growing up. I served mass in the post-World War II church that preceded this one. Most of my experience was with that older, post-World War II church, shaped like a quonset hut, that was replaced by the one whose rubble appears in the picture, but I also knew this church well, and my father's funeral was held there. The school next door, also destroyed, was where I spent the seventh and eighth grades. (Tonight the principal told CNN they'd saved the school records, so at least I won't have to go back and redo the seventh and eighth grades in my 60s.) But all joking aside, seeing my home town devastated has been both traumatic and, like the proverbial train wreck, something I've had trouble taking my eyes off of. Today we learned the Weather Service had reclassified the tornado as an EF-5, the worst possible; and it's the deadliest single tornado since the Weather Service began keeping official records in 1950. Not the kind of record the city fathers dream of, I'm sure.

Some commenters have asked, and here's the short version on the personal side: my parents' generation are all gone now, so I have only cousins back home, but many of them are people I've been extremely close to. All are physically fine. One cousin was in the general path of the storm but it either lifted or turned and she and her home were spared, though nearby blocks were devastated.  One cousin who lives outside the damage zone nonetheless saw his place of business flattened, so I suspect he'll be job hunting. But so far as I know up to now, all the close kin are fine and so are their homes.

At least for those of us who didn't grow up in a big metropolis, it's odd to see all the network newscasts originating from the old home town. All the anchors are in Joplin the last couple of days; we're the new Tahrir Square or Benghazi until the next crisis strikes. But Joplin will still be there when everyone leaves. Joplin hasn't gotten this much attention since Bonnie and Clyde, who had a major shootout in the town, killing several cops. (It's even in the movie.) We don't get national attention unless there's either a major crime or a national disaster.

I'm still working on a long piece and will have the usual short ones, but wanted to give some indication of why I'm a bit preoccupied.

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