I’m typing this from a cot in the darkened gym of the Oklahoma City Rescue Mission, where my daughter Megan and I, along with roughly 40 other disaster relief volunteers (from 13 different states, one very friendly Texan named Amy tells me) are sleeping tonight.
“Lights out” was at 10 pm, so now the dark corners of the room glow softly with cell phones and laptops as everyone checks in with folks at home. I’ve already called to let my husband know we’ve arrived safely after our thousand-mile drive, which began at 6:00 this morning.
Wait — I should correct that: This little venture actually began a few weeks ago, just after the F-5 tornado leveled Moore, OK. Megan was absorbed by the round-the-clock news coverage, and finally told me she felt compelled to go to Oklahoma and help. At first, I dismissed the idea. Well meaning but untrained volunteers always flock to disaster sites in the days following the event, and usually they seem to just get in the way of the FEMA workers and others who are prepared for crisis intervention. Anyway, Meg was supposed to go with her friends to the beach after her June 9 graduation from high school. And I just started a new job, and had that week-long class in Chicago to prepare for…
As the excuses piled up and the impossibilities interwove, I tried to just push aside the nagging feeling that we were supposed to do this. I told Meg I was sorry, but it just wasn’t going to work.
Not 24 hours later, the two of us were sitting in the living room watching more news coverage of the disaster in Moore. The news showed video of an older woman who, with help from neighbors, was sifting through the rubble of what used to be her home. Suddenly, the neighbors all stopped and started removing debris frantically from one spot. A moment later, the woman scooped up a very dusty, disheveled dog of an uncertain breed — her pet that she obviously thought had perished in the storm. She hugged the animal and, over and over, said, “Bless your heart. Bless your little heart.”
I gulped back tears, looked at Meg, and said, “Do you still want to do this Oklahoma thing?” She nodded. A month later, after some phone calls and web searches to figure out where to stay and how to actually be useful, here we are.
The Oklahoma City Rescue Mission is housing disaster relief volunteers for free in their gym (we’re all lined up on cots as if this is an unusually messy army barracks), letting us use their showers, feeding us, and basically giving us the run of the place. Even after years of leading mission trips and staying in less-than-desirable accommodations, I found myself worrying at the last minute about my choice to stay here: Would the car be safe in this neighborhood? Where would we put our stuff? Do we really want to sleep in a gym with a bunch of strangers? Etc. I almost turned around to go find a cheap hotel.
But I didn’t… so we’re here. And it’s fine. More than fine — it’s great. The neighborhood is quiet, and seems safe. There’s a Sonic right around the corner. The rescue mission provides security to patrol the block, so the car is okay. And we’ve already met dozens of people and have been invited to join their group tomorrow as we work through Serve Moore.
I’ve decided to blog about our week, as I’ve already been told by volunteers who started two days ago that this is an experience like no other. I’m writing it down because I think it will matter — to Meg, to me, and maybe to you.
My laptop glow is starting to annoy people, most of whom are now trying to sleep, so it’s time to stop for now.