Survivor Tree

Summer of 2013 was when I laid eyes upon this tree. The tree represented survival and the ability for a community wrought with tragedy to come together in order to surmount any tribulation. This tree was damaged and almost taken down in the midst of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and years later when I looked upon it, a monument of strength and tenacity.

Hours earlier I had landed in Oklahoma after receiving a call. The area of Moore had been devastated by tornadoes, and wanting to step beyond my comfort zone and help, I got a call and the green light from a disaster response organization to go lend a hand.

Words fail to aptly describe the level of devastation but one thing holds true. This area had seen calamity before and they stood strong and firm against the foul winds. When I hit the ground in 2013, I was embraced by all and greeted with smiles as well as hope. A fever of purpose, a galvanizing mantra, we will be strong, we will rebuild. Although I was serving the country at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, I can only speculate the same strength that was there then was resonating when I took my steps into what seemed like devastation as far as can be seen.

I was fortunate enough to visit the grounds of the Oklahoma City bombing after my first days work in Moore. None of us needed motivation to work our hardest, but seeing the grounds and this tree moved me in ways I may never appropriately punctuate. The following days we worked in and around an elementary school that had become a new memorial for seven children taken by the tornadoes. A stoic resolve learned from my days in the military took hold for me and my team as we tirelessly worked to remove debris from surrounding areas. We were on mission for the strong and resilient people of Oklahoma as well as for ourselves.

Days like years would pass as we’d spend from dawn to dusk in a stifling heat,  consumed in vapors of dust. Never the less we pressed on as if possessed with fortitude and a kinship as reachable as the stars, when complacent in the hum of the mediocrity of daily life I had grown accustomed to. Everything had fallen into place for me. Selfish was my endeavor to fill this gap within me in which I felt out of place in normal everyday life. The gap, the hunger to serve others in need finally filled, and to much an extent left me feeling guilty. For I was gaining more from this experience than I was giving. Given time our bodies ached and felt battered from the days of demolishing, sifting, hauling, but it never slowed us down.

We all had breaks from our stoicism at different times while there. Some of us showed it when the school memorial fence fell over on a windy day, and without hesitation getting it back up with every memento attached to the fence intact was our only mission. Others took a knee at the site of a homeowner standing in the rubble that was their home, and searched the landscape for some anchor, some sign of real silver lining whilst adrift in this horror. As for me, it came when standing in line to use the bathroom at a local 7-11. A patron recognized me as being one of the team members that helped out at his home days earlier. Without knowing my name, where I came from, or what my race was he ran up and hugged me. That instance and gesture so full of emotion still echo in my heart today.

Oddly enough when I reflect upon that echo I always gravitate to the survivor tree. Not simply because it survived but it took both the good and the bad and stood stronger and taller for it. I played a small part in the response and recovery of Moore, Oklahoma, but in it’s showing me the good and the bad it also showed me what it means to truly be human.

…labors and dangers…


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