Of course by now everyone has already written about Day 1 long ago, but I just hatched out of my shell today-give me time (and patience, please). Day 1 was an interesting day-early morning flight, delayetd flight #1, delayed flight take 2...and then finally on our way to Joplin. Not one person has made fun of my accent or said a word about how fast I talk (to my surprise). What people did say? Thank you. I think the first time I heard it was on the second flight en route to Joplin. A lot of people saw our massive group of 26-exhausted with endless pillows and carry ons- and they were curious about us. Who we were. Where we were from. What we were doing. I had a few conversations with people who were all so incredibly kind. People told me how nice what we were doing was and while I don't want to say I didn't want to hear it, as that wouldn't be the correct phrase in the least, it felt strange to my ears. It still does, three days later. I guess I just feel like although I am doing something good and something selfless for someone else...it just feels so strange that people make a big deal of it simply because it feels so normal. Everyone should want to volunteer and help other people. I can't really understand why anyone wouldn't want to. It just feels so strange to hear people thanking me for something I feel like I would normally do anyway, something I feel everyone should normally do everyday.
The first person who I really spoke to at length about our trip and what we were doing was a woman on the plane to Joplin, seated behind me. She was one of the few people on the plane who were from Joplin and just expressed a very sincere and gracious 'thank you.' When we were getting off the plane, a few passengers thanked us again and it was just an amazing moment.
I'll admit this wasn't my favorite moment, though, but I'll get to that in a moment. Another thing I feel is necessary to write about is the group's attitude when others praise us. There are some people in this world who do nice things for others or give for the wrong reasons. Some think it makes them a better person than others, thus giving them the right to demean others by thinking less of them or bragging. Some people don't understand that volunteer work isn't about pity or feeling bad that these poor, poor people have just crumbled to the ground and need our help to get back on their feet. It didn't take me long to realize this group of amazing individuals did not include a single person with that outlook. Every person that was questioned about our group or what we were doing casually, graciously, and humbly told them what we were doing. There was no bragging, no negative vibe-just incredibly sincere and honest communication. And I think that's incredibly important.
My most emotional moment of the night was after we first arrived in Joplin. Our flight had been delayed and we were all hungry and tired and went for dinner at Pizza Hut. I immediately began to notice how personable and friendly people are here than in New England, it was almost unreal. There was a man ('the man in the red shirt') at the end of table where I sat with (presumably) his son. The man made small talk with us and asked where we were from, what we were doing, etc. When he found out we were volunteering his tone and expression immediately changed. He thanked us and told us how much it meant to him as a citizen of Joplin, he told us about his experience with the tornado and places to visit. He joked that people on this side of the Mississippi couldn't make good pizza. He was just a nice guy and I really enjoyed conversing with him.
A few moments after he left, the store manager came up to Kendra, Molly, and Krista to talk to them about the bill. I was in earshot so I was able to hear the manager tell the trip leaders that the 'man in the red shirt' has donated $100 to our meal. Oh, and before I go any further-have I mentioned I asbolutely hate crying in front of people? Hate it. And I immediately started crying at the table because I was so overcome with emotion. This man gave us one hundred dollars towards our meal, after only talking with us for a few minutes, because we were volunteers. It was so unexpected and I just felt so...speechless that I cried. I'm pretty sure I was the only one crying, too. Little things have always gotten me. I'm sure 'the man in the red shirt' instructed the store manager to let us know he had donated money at the end of our meal, so he could leave without us catching up to him (oops?). The group leaders were able to catch up with him and he wouldn't give us a name or an address, so the trip leaders were only able to give him a "FSU Alternative Spring Break" pen.
And of course the moment I finally think I have myself under control and we leave the store manager catches up to us in the parking lot with tears in his eyes and thanks us and tells us how important what we are doing is. He told us he lost 2 employees to the tornado and of course everyone started crying all at once.
Another thing I've found interesting is the fact that men in our culture are generally told they need to follow the 'macho' stereotype-never showing emotion, never appearing 'sensitive,' and certainly never crying. These people who are thanking us don't feel ashamed, they don't feel weak, they don't walk around with their tails between their legs-and that's because they aren't any of these things.
The only thing that Joplin, Missouri symbolizes is strong.