The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

May 23, 2011

Mike Pound: Hope shows up just in time

JOPLIN, Mo. — It shows up when there is no earthly reason it should. It shows up when all the evidence points not to hope, but to despair. It shows up in rubble that used to be whole lives. It shows up in the kindness of a neighbor. Or a stranger.

Hope is like a smoldering coal at the bottom of a nearly extinguished fire. But, beneath the dormant ash, there is a subtle, barely distinguishable heat. And all it takes for that coal, that little spark, to take hold is some tender nurturing. If fed right, if handled gently, that coal spark will relight and feed an entire flame.

Yep, hope is a strange thing.

I didn’t expect to find much hope Monday while walking up and down 20th Street. And I sure didn’t expect to find it Sunday night as I walked up and down South Range Line Road. What I expected was what I saw at first: blank, empty faces.

The faces I saw Sunday night were the faces of people too overwhelmed to cry. Too traumatized to show emotion. Too stunned to ask for help.

After seeing those faces, I went home Sunday night convinced that hope was hanging around somewhere under all that tragedy. The five strangers who stopped me Sunday night to make sure I was OK and asked if I needed help gave me hope. So did the hundreds of volunteers who showed up Sunday night at the Missouri Southern State University campus to convert two large gymnasiums into shelters for people desperately in need of them.

On Monday, hope showed up in the voices of the people digging through flattened fields that once were neighborhoods. It showed up in the laugh of Myles Martin, 35, who, on the surface, had no reason to laugh. A little more than a year ago, Myles’ mother died, leaving him to raise his 17-year-old brother, Justin Collins, and his 16-year-old sister, Treasure.

Sunday night, Myles saved his sister’s life.

“I looked out the window, and then I grabbed her (Treasure) and our dog, dove into the bathtub and said, ‘Hold on Sissy,’” Myles said.

Myles showed me the bathtub. It was turned on its side and was almost completely hidden by pieces of walls and ceiling from his small home on East 20th Street.

“When the tub started going over and the window popped, I yanked down the shower curtain and covered all of us,” Myles said.

When I mentioned to Myles that he sounded remarkably upbeat for a guy who lost everything he owned, he just smiled.

“I’ve got no reason to be down,” he said. “We’re alive. That’s what’s important. I just want to go back to school, finish up and we’ll be set,” he said.

Hope showed up Monday in the determined face of Rebecca Wilkinson, 24, as she told me how she rode out the tornado clutching her 3-year-old daughter, Emily, in the top-floor bathroom in her Hampshire Terrace apartment on East 20th Street.

“I heard a gush of wind and it started hurling us around, and I just covered my daughter and prayed,” Rebecca said.

When the storm passed, Rebecca and her daughter were covered with debris. But through the rubble, she saw sunlight.

“Two guys hollered at me, so I just pushed my daughter through the hole and they took her for me but said they couldn’t get me out,” Rebecca said.

For the next hour, Rebecca waited while her stepfather and a man whose name she didn’t know dug her out. While she was trapped, she could hear her daughter crying and screaming over and over again: “Somebody please help my mommy.”

While she recounted her daughter’s cries for help, Rebecca’s voice cracked for the first time. Then she composed herself.

“I’m taking today off to search for my stuff, but then I have to get back to work,” she said.

Rebecca said she is a “unit secretary and ICU monitor tech” with Freeman Health System.

“I need to be back at work,” she said firmly.

Look, there are sure to be many more bad days than good days ahead of us. That’s a given. There are bound to be days when hope seems completely buried. But it’s not, and some day, I promise you, hope is going to reignite.

It has to. It’s all we’ve got.

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Tornado: Mike Pound