How you ever seem to run away from me. Oy Vey!!!
SO, I know that I gave assurances of a longer blog post about our time in Perryville, MO helping with the Tornado cleanup. I am here to deliver on that warranty. Now, I know what you are thinking, Wow, Ms. Snark, that was the longest week I have ever waited. And you would be right. About 6 weeks right. I could give excuses about inspiration hitting for my book, or kids falling out of trees and breaking tailbones, or about how the military has us moving again. But the G!d’s honest truth is this, I am just horrible with the deadlines that I set forth for myself ever since I got sick, and accepted my illness. And ever since I accepted my illness and stopped fighting it, I have been a much happier person. That is why I blog for no one but me. At this point in time, at the writing of this particular post, and up until this point, I have never received any monetary gain from my blogs of any sort. Truth be told, I can’t ever see that changing because I would stop blogging for my mental health and start blogging for someone else’s. So for now anyways. It is all me. One hundred percent, unfiltered and raw, straight to you, without restraint, unfettered and unadulterated. So get over it.
Okay, where was I? Perryville, Okay so It was great, the people were better, I really suggest getting your hands dirty the next disaster, it will really change your perspective on life. Peace out all!
I’m just kidding, I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that after so long of a wait. Oh boy, I don’t know if I have a lot of words, But I at least have some pictures.
Lets me start with Indiana. It may seem like a weird place to start for relief efforts in Missouri. But you have to understand that I am living in Indiana currently. Remember how I said that this all started with a cat. Well, his name is Obi. More accurately his name is Obadiah. But he never stops howling, and we have affectionately named him Obi “Whine” Kenobi. This cat is the bane of my existence. But he has a brother, and Jedi, once called Jedidiah, and him are therapy cats. These cats love and adore my girls, and I would do anything to keep my girls happy. So the cat stays. My girls have done everything under the sun to these poor cats, and they just come back begging for more.
Anyway, back to the story. The storm that brought the tornadoes to Missouri and Illinois, and even some small tornados north of us in Indiana. It also brought some hefty winds to my in-laws’ back yard, where were are currently parking our 5th wheel trailer. These winds rocked the trailer to the point that I swear we lifted one side of the trailer. Not a lot, mind you, but for a second I thought we were flipping over folks. It was scary! And then it was over. Well, not over, the winds were still bad, and I didn’t sleep at all that night, and the winds whistled mean songs to me about the mangled mess the yard was going to be in when we woke up.
Alas, morning came, and the yard was unscathed. The wind was still howling, and the saga continued. That evening my eldest told me she had not seen Obi “Whine” Kenobi in a couple of days. At this point, I realize I can’t remember the last time I had seen him. Period. It could have been weeks with the amount of attention I had been paying. I started asking my in-laws, and none of them had seen him in days either. At this point, I start to panic because we just had a massive windstorm with downed trees. Animals that become disoriented get lost and some never return home. Worse, what if he was hurt?
After hours of walking the block and calling for him with the pet clicker to no avail, I start driving the streets looking for road kill. With the wind still howling though, we couldn’t hear him calling for us even if he was stuck and call out for help. So I head online to sites we have locally for missing pets. Still nothing. After another day with no cat, and winds still not dying down, I start losing hope. My daughters’ language and self-talk started to change, I realize that they have accepted that he is probably gone. This isn’t good, they still cry over the last cat that never came home. That was over two years ago. I can’t deal with this right now.
Another sleepless night! What to do? As I chain smoked and deliberated, a mother’s heart cried out to G!d, “How do you heal the broken and despairing? Do you just stand by? What can I do? I feel so helpless”
The next morning the wind was gone and I snuck out for a smoke before the girls awoke. Now, I admit, smoking isn’t something that I write about a lot. It is not something that I am proud of. It is one of two things that I regret in life, picking up that first cigarette, and leaving my elderly cat with my in-laws (a situational story for another time). The point is, I won’t edit it out of my life. It’s a part of my struggle, and yes, it is a huge struggle for me. It is something I have struggled with, and I even thought I won the war, but apparent;y I only won a few battles. The fight isn’t over yet. So please be kind in your judgments and words. I don’t smoke because I disregard the hazards. Believe me, if it were a matter of just quitting, I would, and I thought I had. We all have our demons and vices. This is one of mine. I’m not so big of a hypocrite to pretend and hide mine, I just don’t talk about them often because I am ashamed of them.
However, back to this particular story, I tell of smoking, because I have to admit, that while I usually smoke half to maybe a whole pack of cigarettes a week, I feel like I probably smoked a third a pack that night alone worrying about that dumb cat. So halfway through that morning cigarette, which I NEVER smoke in the morning, I hear the ever familiar MEOW of Obi, I get up to investigate, and a bunch of investigation and a knock on the neighbors door, and some excited gesturing through a language barrier, I found my cat in the neighbor’s garage.
I was happy, the kids were happy. And all of a sudden I felt this large emptiness.
If I was this worried over a cat that I couldn’t even hardly stand, how much more devastated must the families in Missouri and Illinois be feeling? In Perryville, there were 90 homes hit. Sixty homes were completely leveled by the tornado. That’s not even including homes that hadn’t even been surveyed yet. That was just the beginning count in the days after the tornado. A 24-year-old young man was killed named Travis M. Koenig. If he had been even a second slower or faster, things could have been different. The tornado picked up his vehicle and tossed it 50 feet. But that isn’t what killed him. No, the other passenger was fine. He was thrown from the vehicle, another 50 feet. That is what killed him. Responders said he was wearing his seat belt. So it wasn’t like he did anything wrong. His parents called him and said it was time to come home, the storm was getting bad. He was described as a teddy bear. Gentle. He was only 24 years only. That’s younger than my little brother. This shook me to the core of my being.
I guess it is true what the Eccleciatese said, there is a time for everything. Also that there is nothing new under the sun. My compassion and grief were not new, and I knew that the loss these strangers were feeling was not new, but my words from the night before echoed back to me, “How do you heal the broken and despairing? Do you just stand by? What can I Do? I feel so helpless.”
So in a moment, I knew what we had to do. We were going to Perryville to help with the cleanup. But how does one even volunteer for these things? On the news, I was seeing reports of the devastation. I know where Perryville was on the map from my year of living in Missouri.
I couldn’t very well just drive into town and start picking up sticks. And what about my kids? I homeschool. I have two kids under ten, always attached to my hips. Were they allowed to volunteer? If I could even find where the volunteers were amassing in town to gather and head out each day, would we be turned away because my kids were too young? I surely didn’t want to be a burden to the community, but I didn’t know how to answer these question. I had never volunteered before because I had never been close enough, I had only monetarily supported efforts such as these.
However, I had made up my mind in an instant. A tornado doesn’t care the age of the victims, so I didn’t care how young my children were either. They were going to help with cleanup up efforts. I was not going to shelter them from this. The children in Perryville weren’t spared. They lost their homes, and they had to rummage through the rubble to salvage what was left, if anything, of their stuff. And by golly, we were going to help. I was going to find a way if it was the last thing I did. I may only have a Masters degree in Finance, but I have a Ph.D. in Google Research, and there was no stopping me.
By midday, I had been turned down by our local Red Cross. They said they had local trucks leaving, but the kids’ age exempt us from volunteering, I asked if I could follow behind in my own vehicle and they didn’t even know when they were going. They asked me to come down and fill out paperwork for the next disaster closer to home. Maybe later! But not today. Our local office didn’t really seem to know what they were doing, and I didn’t want to wait around while they figured it out. So I kept searching.
By the next day, after much searching, and a quadrillion phone calls, I was led to the local Perryville government offices. They directed me to the volunteer Hotline where I left a message and waited. Hours later someone called and told me there were several agencies, including the red cross and others, accepting volunteers. I would need to show up and sign waivers for myself and children, and they would gladly welcome all of our help.
I walked inside and asked my mother-in-law if she would feed my cats because we were going to Missouri. She about fell over. Apparently, in all of this, I never let anyone in on my plans and thought process. It’s a nasty little habit of mine. When my heart gets to fluttering and feeling and throbbing, I just kind of lose all sense of, … well, … else!
I explained that we were going to go and help with the cleanup efforts after the tornado that devastated the town, and while I’m not exactly sure she understood me in that moment, she, of course, supported me. We packed a bag and settled some affairs, and by the next afternoon, we left.
Now, unfortunately, what should have been a four and a half to five-hour drive, turned into nearly an eight-hour drive. While my children travel really well, I was three days post minor intestinal surgery. And the stress of a road trip was something I had to take slowly. So we took our time.
I tried to get people from our local temple to come with us but I couldn’t find a single individual who was willing to take time off work and come with me. I was actually very disappointed. That’s alright, Perryville, MO was three Jews strong that weekend. We worked side by side with agnostics and Catholics, and Lutherans. Because the cleanup efforts brought a community of friends and strangers together no matter where we came from.
Along the route I called my mom and told her what was going on, she hadn’t even heard about the tornado and was astounded and asked me if I was meshugge. But by the time I had reached Missouri she had booked a flight and asked if I would pick her up from the St Louise Airport the next night at midnight. Apparently crazy runs in the family.
About this point, all I knew were the images I had seen on the news.
About this point, I started asking myself what the heck I was thinking. All of this was in my head. Just pictures in my head from a cell phone screen. Because let’s be really, truly, brutally honest here… I don’t even own a television. I don’t leave my house except to take my kids to Religious school or Hebrew School or Shul, and if I’m being honest before G!d and self right now, Shul happens about once a month. I don’t go to the grocery store until we really really need to. I buy staples until then. I don’t think it’s because I’m a bad parent. I just don’t ‘people’ well, and I ‘public’ even worse. I go to the same places I’ve always gone, and I just do the same things I’ve always done. And this military life is something I avoid. And yet I get these hair brained ideas, like going on a ten and a half month road trip around the United States. Or like going to Perryville, MO to help complete strangers.
I really do have a good heart under this quirky exterior of weird and awkward. I just want to repair the world and make the world shine better. I want to make the world shine brighter so that the world can be a better place and be a place where maybe someday we can all get along, and there will be no more war, or famine, or hunger, and wanting. I know it sounds stupid and whimsical, and hippie, and naive. But is it really such a bad world to work towards? What if we were to all work towards it? I know it’s sensational thinking, but the longing for such a world is why I went to Perryville. I believe it is possible.
I believe it is possible that there exists a reality where we can all work together for a common purpose. Not of self-preservation born out of greed and self-serving, but born out of our of love for others and putting this world and the common good first.
For some reason, I just cannot fathom, why we only find this place when there is a tragedy. The larger the tragedy, the longer we hold onto the commonality. For Perryville, it was a week or two. For 9/11 it was months. Why can we not find a way to live in a constant state of serving others and preservation of others? Wouldn’t the world be a better place to live if we live in love and serving one another and taking care of one another? If we watched out for one another, and if we were our brother and sisters keeper?
Hinei mah tov umah naim, shevet achim gam yachad
How good and pleasant it is when G!d’s people live together in unity (Psalm 133)
Anyways, back to my panic attack, about the time I was getting close to Perryville, I realized just how much I was out of my element. I have this ideology of helping the world and paying it forward. But the actual practice of it is so outside of my comfort zone, I wondered what the heck I was thinking. I knew I had chosen the right path. This path would teach my children what life was really about, serving others, helping our fellow brethren. But in my state of exhaustion, I was a bit panicky. Luckily we got the last room available at the hotel, and they gave us a huge discount because we were there to help with the cleanup efforts.
Thank G!d for his provisions and His enduring mercies every day.
I guess I had more words about this experience than I thought. It really was an experience that changed me. And the ‘peopling’ that I did while I was there changed me forever. The second family that we helped and stuck with thru the remainder of our visit will forever change the way I view this world.
Stay tuned for the actual clean up efforts. I have been so blessed by this whole experience. And I continue to be blessed. I will try to be more timely with the follow-up blog, Part-Two of our adventures in Perryville. But I don’t want to give any promises that I probably will fail to live up to.