The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 6, 2011

Mike Pound: You have to balance the horrific with the humane

By Mike Pound

JOPLIN, Mo. — Sometimes you worry about becoming immune to the stories because it seems that everyone has one to tell, and each one is as compelling as it is sad.

If you hear enough of those stories for a long enough period of time, it’s possible that they might tend to run together. It’s possible that it might become hard to distinguish one heartbreaking story from another heartbreaking story.

So what you do is fight against that possibility and, in doing so, try to balance the horrific with the humane. The scary with the sweet. The tragedy with the triumph.

I was chatting on the phone Wednesday with a woman who called to tell me about a fundraiser she and some other people are trying to organize for a friend who was victimized by the May 22 tornado. We have been getting a lot of calls like that at the newspaper, and every one of those calls is for a very good cause. And every one of those callers has a story to tell.

At first, when the woman called and told me she was trying to put on a fundraiser, I thought about passing her call on to someone else. But I didn’t. I let the woman tell her friend’s story.

It was a horrible story. It was a story of someone who suffered an unspeakable loss. I told the nice woman on the phone that I would help get the word out about her fundraiser. The woman thanked me and said she would get with her friends to finalize the details for their event, which is tentatively set for July 31, and then get back with me.

After that, we chatted for a few minutes more. The woman, who is a registered nurse, told me that she lives in Oregon but was in Joplin the day after the tornado. The woman said she volunteered at a triage site for several days. I asked her if she was having trouble sleeping. She paused a second and said that she was. The woman said that for several weeks after the storm, she found herself crying a lot. Things are better now, she said, but the things she saw in those immediate days after the tornado and the stories she heard still bounce around in her head.

We talked about things folks went through on that awful night in May and what they continue to go through. We both wondered how they go on, and we decided that they go on because they don’t have any choice. We decided that about all the rest of us can do is be there for those people.

“We have to keep going too,” she said. “We have to help.”

In a few weeks, I will write a column about what a group of folks are doing to try to help their friend, and I will try to tell a story that makes me sick to think about.

I was sort of down when I got off the phone Wednesday. Then I remembered something that made me smile, and I picked up my phone and called Chris Hipsher. Chris lives in Olathe, Kan.

Late last week, Chris sent an email to my wife. In the email, Chris explained that her two daughters — 9-year-old Kelly and 8-year-old Melanie — decided to open a lemonade stand in their neighborhood. Helping them were Hailee Murray, 8, and her sister, Tatum, 10.

Chris told me that Melanie saw her reading a story on her Facebook page about the Joplin tornado and about ways to donate to the relief effort.

“The girls had been talking about a lemonade stand for a long time, and when Melanie saw the story, they talked and decided they wanted to have a stand and donate the money to Joplin,” Chris said.

Specifically, Chris said, Kelly, Melanie, Hailee and Tatum wanted to donate their money “to the schools.”

Chris said the girls took in $45 from the lemonade stand.

“But they only charged 25 cents a glass, so they sold a lot of lemonade,” she said.

The girls had set a goal of $60, so when they counted up their money and saw they were $15 short, they pooled their allowance money to reach their goal.

It was a story that made me smile at a time when I wasn’t ready to smile.

Oh, by the way, Kelly and Melanie’s dad is Tim Hipsher. Tim is my brother-in-law. Chris is my youngest sister. Kelly and Melanie are my nieces.

And I couldn’t be prouder of them.