Most people’s first day of a new job or internship includes sitting at a cubicle, filling out some paperwork, and trying (and usually failing) to connect to the company’s computer server. My first day as an intern with Mercury One involved helping with disaster relief work in the heart of Oklahoma. I quickly learned that nothing deters this incredible organization. Although severe storms were once again pounding Oklahoma this past weekend – to be quite honest, I’m deathly afraid of tornadoes and was more than a little nervous about the trip – the team was on the ground within hours. I pulled together my courage, packed my backpack, and joined Mercury One for a humbling, moving, and life-changing experience.
Those of us new to disaster relief did not know what to expect as we drove in to Oklahoma. At first, everything seemed normal. As we suddenly turned a street corner, however, our eyes fell upon the desolation. Joel, a fellow intern, said in amazement, “When we first got there and were looking at the neighborhoods, you’d see a single devastated street or house – just a small window of destruction. And then you’d look up and see that everywhere there was nothing.” I had seen pictures in the media, but being there in person left me speechless. Homes were reduced to a pile of rubble, yet parts of everyday life still caught my attention: a toothbrush caught between two bricks, a stuffed animal poking out from underneath a piece of concrete, the game Battleship lying on the side of a road. These small remnants of people’s possessions forced us to remember that this was not debris; it was the lives, hopes, and dreams of men, women, families, and children.
My first thought was, “How can I, just a single person, help to heal this community?” I soon realized that individually, we are weak, but together, we are strong. These tornados in Oklahoma have only proven that Americans are unbreakable, and thanks to the donations to Mercury One’s 2013 Midwest Tornado Relief Fund, we were able to distribute money and aid to many different organizations in the area. Seeing the memorial of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died, helped me to understand how important our donation was to Shelter Oklahoma Schools. Seeing the emotion of the sheriff’s deputies whose homes were destroyed or damaged helped me to understand just how significant each and every donation, great or small, is to our fund. Seeing how church members had spent countless, sleepless days and nights sorting clothes, distributing food, and improving morale helped me to understand how I could go home at any time, but these were the people who were there to stay. And personally shoveling and clearing debris allowed me to experience, albeit briefly, the emotional and physical toll disasters take on those affected.
The other interns and I were surprised most by the sense of optimism surrounding us. Many times throughout our trip I found myself near tears and had to mentally step away. During such moments, I would think, “If the people of Oklahoma can smile, so can you.” Alex, another Mercury One intern, said, “One of my most memorable moments was when we found a father moving the remains of his house out of his yard. We offered to help, and he said as he picked up leaves and bricks, ‘One day the grass will grow.’” It was this phrase, along with finding an undamaged set of family photo negatives under a shattered mirror, stumbling across a perfect, unbroken egg lying next to a refrigerator, and seeing the American flag on every corner, that helped me to keep smiling, to keep going.
I came away from this trip feeling extraordinarily blessed: blessed for my home, my family, my school, my job, and my country. But most of all, I came away knowing that even in the darkest, hardest times, we must remember that, “One day the grass will grow.”