Dispatch from Joplin: Reclaiming our unalienable rights

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | 2:14 p.m. CDT; updated 4:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

JOPLIN — I would venture to say that our Fourth of July in Joplin looked a lot like yours.

There were old familiar lawn chairs creaking with age, children running around squealing and throwing Pop Pop Snappers at each other’s feet, barbecue sauce and Bomb Pops making a mess of everything.

You would never guess that only three miles away, a third of our city lay in ruin.

It was a relief to be “normal” for the day, a sigh-inducing luxury to forget about all of the remains — if only briefly — and celebrate with the rest of our country. 

I have been lucky enough to spend Independence Day in Joplin for more than half my life. Even before my family moved here 10 years ago, I would travel to Landreth Park to wreak havoc with my cousins and delight in the impressive city fireworks show. To this day, it remains my pick of the holidays.

This year, the crowd was bigger and the show was better. As the faraway explosions rattled in my chest and flashes of color lit up the faces in the crowd, I looked around and was even more delighted to see that they were all smiling.

In the days following the tornado, most of us wandered around in an expressionless daze. Some wept, while others were strong enough to offer what they hoped to be encouraging smiles. But for the most part, grins were few and far between.

The first time I found myself laughing, I clapped my hand over my mouth guiltily, but now, I think it’s okay if we let ourselves be happy.

As we all gathered in the park before the fireworks began, I sat back and watched a little girl dance around her parents’ legs and wave a sparkler in circles. I thought about her future in this town that I’m proud to call my own, and I saw only good things for her. Perhaps she will grow up in a different place than I did, but it will be a better one.

The lessons this storm brought with it are innumerable. We have learned to hold our loved ones closer, put less stock in items that come with price tags, seek shelter when the skies grow dark and lean on our neighbors when we lose the strength to stand.

Our flags are back to flying at full-staff, and while we will always mourn for those we lost, the time for mourning the destruction of our city is over. 

Now is the time for living, and, as our forefathers wished for us, reclaiming our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Nothing can take those away from us — not even a tornado.

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