By Carol Stark
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Almost 18 months after one of deadliest tornados in history cut a swath through the heart of Joplin, I discovered these words of wisdom from Emerson, a writer whom I have often admired.
They leaped off a page of copy I was reading, grabbing my attention.
I could have used the poet’s sage advice in the dark days that followed May 22, 2011. Fortunately, my newspaper and my town — minus the prose — were a testament to Emerson’s words.
Here in Southwest Missouri, we call it pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. I don’t know what it’s called it on the East Coast, but I bet it’s equally descriptive. After all, New York City had its heart shattered in 2001, surviving the unthinkable. Now, Hurricane Sandy has wreaked havoc, claiming lives, homes and power, leaving chaos and confusion in its wake.
Clifford Richner, publisher of Richner Communications Inc., reached out to me earlier this week. He runs several community newspapers on Long Island. I had met Cliff in September at a newspaper conference in Atlanta, where I had the opportunity to tell Joplin’s story. He was one of the first to offer a hand when I shakily stepped down from the stage. Tears where streaming down my face. Speaking about the tornado’s devastation always takes me back to the horrible night I stood in the newsroom, talking to no one in particular, asking what I was supposed to do next.
I immediately recognized that same angst in Cliff’s voice when he called. The strain of fatigue, worry and frustration told the story before Cliff did. Many of his employees aren’t sure if their homes would be livable. They have lost their vehicles. Those who still have homes, don’t have power. Cold weather is bearing down on them.
And then, of course, there are the readers. Thousands and thousands of Cliff’s newspaper readers are suffering. His newspapers’ job goes beyond just informing. They are that voice for those who have none.
I am honored that Cliff asked for Joplin’s voice to help reinforce the message that Long Island isn’t alone in this. Nor is New Jersey or New York.
Two hundred linemen left Joplin last week for the East Coast. A team of 30 city leaders stand ready to assist when they get a call. Our churches are collecting clothing and food for hurricane victims. Volunteers are organizing, and some are already on their way.
But the real strength will be found within those living in the storm-damaged cities and villages. Federal response is required, but so is a strong sense of local leadership. Those leaders won’t necessarily represent government. They will be school teachers, doctors, preachers, rabbis and priests. They will be the kid next door or the senior citizen down the street. Strong convictions and strong hands will be needed in the coming months.
Almost a year and half since 161 lives were lost in Joplin, we still mourn. But homes and businesses are coming back strong, and just last week a family was reunited with their beloved pet. Even the smallest of miracles are welcome ones here in our town.
I wish I could tell Cliff’s readers that their lives will return to normal. For many, that won’t happen. How can it when lives have been destroyed and layers of history washed away? But, day by day, the despair turns to resolve.
And with resolve comes results.
East Coast neighbors, Joplin’s thoughts and prayers are with you.
Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. One member of her newsroom was killed on May 22, 2011. Thirty-three employees at the newspaper lost their homes.