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Oklahoma Tornado

May 21, 2013 | by Debbie Gutfreund

When there are no words, there are tears.

I’ll never forget the first time my daughter saw a homeless person sleeping in a cardboard box on the sidewalk in Manhattan. We were in a rush to meet friends at a restaurant, and I was winding our way through the crowds of pedestrians when I felt my daughter tug at my arm.

“Mommy, look. This man needs help. He’s sleeping in a box! We have to stop! We have to give him something to eat. Or some money. Or both.”

I didn’t stop. I mumbled something about there being hundreds of homeless people sleeping on rags on every corner in the city. We can’t feed all of them. We can’t stop every time we see them. We were late.

I walked quicker and told her not to stare. But she couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away every time we passed another homeless person on the next few corners. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, my daughter was almost in tears. I tried to explain to her that there were shelters and food kitchens and ways that we could think of to help without stopping every time we saw someone begging for money.

But the tears rolled down her cheeks anyway. “I’m just so sad for them. Why do some people have to live like that?”

I didn’t have an answer, but suddenly, I wanted to cry with my daughter. When did I lose my ability to feel another’s pain? When did I start to look away from suffering?

Sometimes there are no words. But there are tears. When the pain and the devastation are beyond what we can fathom, we may not be able to do say anything. We may not be able to do anything. But we can feel each other’s pain. We may have no words, but we still have tears.

The Oklahoma tornado that hit leaves us speechless. The storm was 22 miles long with 200mph winds that devastated the town of Moore, Oklahoma, flattening homes, a hospital and two elementary schools. At least 24 people were killed including nine children and the number of fatalities is expected to rise as the rescue teams search for survivors. Over a hundred people have been pulled alive from the rubble. Plaza Towers elementary school was completely leveled, and parents walked for miles through the town’s rubble to reach their children who were being pulled out of the debris. Neighborhood volunteers and parents formed a line to help pass the rescued children from one set of arms to another until all the surviving children had been carried to the triage center set up in a nearby parking lot.

One of the sixth grade teachers at Plaza Tower elementary school heroically lay down on top of her students to shield them from the rubble. “I was in a bathroom stall with some kids and it just started coming down, so I laid on top of them. I never thought I was going to die. The whole time I just kept screaming to them, ‘We’re going to be fine, we’re going to be fine, I’m protecting you.” All of Rhonda Crosswhite’s students are now safe, and their parents credit their children’s survival to their teacher’s amazing courage.

There were tearful reunions at the elementary schools as parents searched frantically for their children and sobbed uncontrollably once they found them. For the parents whose children did not survive, the night was endless as they ran across the debris in a panic, holding onto their last vestiges of hope until the bodies were found. Whole city blocks were destroyed beyond recognition. Cars were tossed into trees and crumpled into piles. People’s homes were reduced to splinters of wood in a matter of seconds. There is no power and no water. There are hundreds of people still unaccounted for as the disaster teams try to clear away the rubble and treat the injured.

A family of four, including their baby, died in their home as they attempted to seek shelter in their freezer.

The videos and photos of this devastating storm leave all of us without words. The thousands of people who are now homeless. The hundreds of people who cannot find their loved ones. The parents who lost their children. The town that has just been leveled to an unrecognizable pile of rubble. We may not be able to run and help. We may not be able to stop at every street corner. But we can feel the pain of the loss. We can stop for a moment and consider the enormity of the devastation.

There may be no answers. But there are tears. Our hearts go out to the town of Moore, Oklahoma as they struggle to pick up the pieces. We pray that more survivors will soon be found, and we pray for the recovery of the injured. May their homes, their schools, and their hospitals be rebuilt quickly and may they find comfort from their losses. Don’t look away from those who are suffering even if there is nothing we can do, but cry with them. Even if just for a moment. We can’t lose that sense of compassion that made my daughter stop in her tracks on the streets of Manhattan. We can’t forget to feel for those who no longer have roofs over their heads as we sit in our own homes.

In a place of no words, there is the human heart. Feeling and grieving and breaking when we are faced with such an unbelievable sense of loss. And even when that is all we have to give, it is sometimes exactly what those who are suffering need the most.

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