i used to drive students down to the airport there, and sometimes i'd pick them up; they'd fly in, maybe tokyo to chicago to kansas city to joplin, with that last flight on a tiny little plane where they'd ask you your weight and you had to duck your head and sit exactly where they told you or you'd throw the weight off and everybody'd be doomed. They would have two outsized enormous suitcases, their limit, jammed to the gills with everything from rice to rice cookers on the assumption, generally true, that nothing useful could be found way out in the wilderness; everything had to be packed. so these suicases would be 1.5 milligrams less than the legal limit and i could just hear the pilot mentioning how it might throw the whole plane out of whack and be the doom of everyone, making the two or three passengers extremely nervous and accentuating the little bumps and turbulence they would experience. students would come into the airport white as a sheet, and wonder what was next, or if it could get any worse.
no sooner would i load them and their suitcases into the car than a fairly sparse town of joplin would turn into windswept plain, and a full twenty minutes later or so, or more, we'd come upon the town of asbury, a virtually boarded up vacant sort of place that was halfway or so. there were maybe two or three buildings there, and never a soul around; maybe a convenience store that was often closed. sometimes it would be raining or worse, raining hard. i could see them wondering what they'd gotten themselves into, without saying a word to them.
years later i remember almost nobody in the town of joplin itself, god rest their souls, and i remember very little of anything i actually did in joplin, although the temple and rare quaker meeting were among our stops. once on the way to a quaker quarterly campout down in arkansas, i went straight through joplin and down to a revivalist church on the highway south; i'd stopped there because it was simply too far to make it all the way to the quaker thing, and, being somewhat isolated in kansas, i needed something, someplace to go. inside a revivalist preacher promised new life with the new highway that was due to come through anyytime; i thought of this place when i heard all this stuff about the rapture: the hope, the belief that a new world was dawning. days after the "rapture" came and went, we were all in a tornado shelter again; these storms just keep coming up, and they all keep coming from down that way, and i could see on the map that joplin was getting more of them, in spite of just being pounded, almost destroyed.
another time i was taking two african guys to joplin for their return trip back home, after a couple of years in pittsburg, and they were speaking most of the way in an animated way but in their native african tongue, which was probably hausa-falani or some dialect of it. it so happened that i knew one word in that language, gaskiya, and i heard it; i even heard it repeatedly. it meant "truth" so apparently one guy was agreeing with the other when he used it. when i pointed out that i actually knew that word they were overjoyed, and accepted me as a complete brother; they even later gave me some of the things that wouldn't fit into their overstuffed suitcases. the ironic thing was, it was just about as we were rolling through asbury that this happened. but they were somewhat like me: as opposed to seeing the place for the first time ever, and assuming that this is what the hinterlands of all the usa looked like, they, like me, had been here for years, and tended to barely even see a place as inconsequential as asbury,a blip on the screen, a nowhere place, halfway to another.
to the people of joplin: it doesn't seem quite right to just pick up, and go on with our life, even way out here on the other end of the state, when so much of your lives have been ruined, rent asunder, in such a random and brutal way. it's been a busy time, and i wake up, go to work, and am swamped for hours on end, getting classes started, getting life underway with a new term; too busy to think, or to read a news report, or get the whole story, which in many ways, would be too scary anyway. deep in my heart, i ache for you. we here got in the shelter one more time, maybe our fourth or fifth, in a recent warning. it's been a long season; most of us are ready for it to die down a little and just give us the usual sweltering, brutal summer. we send you our thoughts and prayers. gaskiya...