5:41pm. Today marks 6 years.
When me and the boys went back to J-Town last year for the 5-year remembrance of the Joplin tornado, I was met with a myriad of emotions. Pride in seeing it bounce back so quickly, so vibrantly, like I knew it would. Regret that I didn't get to play a present and physical role in many of its rebuilding efforts. Awe in seeing neighbors, friends, loved ones, and strangers giving polite nods, generous hugs, and sometimes just simply holding one another to shed a tear for not only the harrowing night five years prior, but to let out a giant, unabashed sigh of relief that they'd made it five whole years. I felt nostalgia as I longed to see the streets I used to roam, now transformed to bright, bustling new construction, a new beginning, a fresh start. I felt excitement for the new families that would move to the New Joplin, with its state-of-the-art facilities, the community that worked to rebuild a place they loved, and their good fortune that they'd be surrounded by some of the best people to be found anywhere. On the other side of the same coin, I was pained by a deep sadness to know that the visceral emotions I felt every time I drove down those old streets, heard the wind rustling those timeless trees, and saw the places that made me who I am wouldn't happen again. It would only make the visits to my old ghosts that much harder, that much further away. I would have to search more diligently to remember what it was before.
At the events, I got to see a lot of familiar and wonderful faces in the crowd: old teachers, friends' parents, church folks that I'm sure I terrorized in the choir loft or the pews. I heard a lot of voices catching up, filling in the gap between then and now, making comparisons with the same mixed emotions that I felt. And for all of the people that I spoke to that weekend, young and old, stranger and friend, there was an overwhelming sense of this:
"I'm glad we're doing this. Hopefully, after this one, we can just let it be."
They didn't want a six year remembrance. A ten year. I think drudging up all of the emotions of a night that literally changed lives and ended others was all too much. They carried it with them every day already, what was one more?
It occurred to me that while the tornado would stand to alter the very chemical makeup of a town, of its people, and who they would both turn out to be, that it was time to no longer allow that to be the only defining factor in their lives. It can't be the only thing that gets a say; the one moniker that they'll be forever known for. Perhaps they wanted something else to define them now. Some other event. A better story. A simpler time.
It was a bittersweet reunion. A necessary send off. A recognition of the inevitable. A ceremony for what was, and what it's done to irreparably change the now.
It was time to flip it the bird, find it in ourselves to somehow thank it for the part it played, and then move on.
And for all who are ready to move on, I get it.
I get it. I get it. I get it.
I sat down today to write a remembrance. It didn't occur to me until literally just now that I needed to write it for me. I needed this. I needed to remember this day. Not only for my hometown, but for me.
I didn't actually live through a tornado. My family did that. I didn't ride the storm out in a bathtub, a closet, a crawlspace, a church, or a storage cooler. Joplin did that. I didn't rebuild the place I loved literally from the ground up. Volunteers, citizens, angels did that.
But I wish I had.
My fate has felt so intertwined with that place that I can't bear it sometimes. I'm crushed under the weight of that old house, still lying there, wondering if anyone's going to ever come clean it off.
"I had a dusty box of trophies in the attic."
I used to save things. All things. Not a hoarder, but a rememberer. I would take up closets and attics of storage just for the chance to save little trinkets to look over again and have my memory stirred. I have a photographic memory, and sometimes just reading things or looking at pictures could put me back there in that place as if I were living it all over again for the first time.
You see, my tragedy was not visceral. It wasn't close. I wasn't there. I can't know. But it doesn't make the pain I feel from losing that place, and those things any less for me.
Deep Cuts was my own personal Day of Remembrance.
My tornado was a whirlwind move from sacred ground, all for the hopes of a life that I truly believed I was meant for. A calling bigger than myself. I didn't get the results I'd hoped for when I first came to Nashville. I didn't capture the hearts and minds of millions. I wasn't on the stages I'd always dreamed of. I wasn't even necessarily living the life I'd always imagined. But the tragic event of moving here and having those ideals smashed, by knowing the world wasn't as it had always seemed, to have the long endless wrestling match with my heart left to wonder 'Am I crazy?', 'Was my desire to do this thing real?', 'Was it my calling, or just a selfish desire that went wayyyyy too far?' 'Would I ever again feel as certain about anything ever? And if not this, than is anything certain?'
But it was time to end that story. To turn it on its head. To no longer allow it to define me. It was time to be something different. Not a man striving to be important, or better, or faster, or more. But a man who is resolved, grounded, assured. Rather than seeking validation from without, it was time to build it from within. I needed to know in the depths of me that my work on this Earth would not be measured by a singular event, by a young man's failure to do what he'd always set out to do. I would instead give that young man a kind and thankful nod, and then use his passion, and his fire, and his hopes to fuel my own understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to do good, and what it means to be good.
The event of the tornado stirred in me all of these things. It was the embodiment of my own personal journey, and it damn near cost me everything.
For some of you, the tornado did cost you everything.
And for you, my heart aches today.
For you, we will remember. For you we will drudge out the old feelings. For you we will give prayers, and thoughts, and well-wishes, and tell stories, and keep their memory alive. Every year, from here till kingdom come.
We will remember the volunteers and saviors that showed the world what the best of the human spirit is capable of. What can be done when we all do it together. For them, we will remember.
But while that careless act of nature didn't discriminate when it came, we will. We can. we must.
So for others, we will also forget. Forget the things we lost, the feelings we felt, the horror of that night. The times when we were less than cordial, or overcome by grief, or just couldn't bear it anymore.
We will refuse to allow a thing that happened to us become an inseparable part of us. We will understand that tragedy does not follow us, but it does happen to us. We will forget what it was like to come so close to our own mortality. We will forget any things that used to divide us. We will forget the things said about us that make us feel lesser, as anything other than human, and known, and loved.
For all of the things that keep us from moving into and accepting the free gifts of hope and a brighter future for ourselves and our loved ones, we will forget them. They have no business here.
I will forget the struggle. I will forget the previous rejections. I will forget my loathing and self-doubt. I will stop allowing my past to define me.
Instead, I will write. I will write songs. I will write blogs. I will want, and feel, and desire to be connected to my fellow man. I will toil, and play, and practice, and wrestle, and release music because it is important to do so. Deep Cuts took all that I am to make. It took all that my wife and I had to make. But regardless of its place in the annuls of history, I will continue to remember why I did it.
Because I'm so glad I did.
And hopefully, after this, I can just let it be.