A favorite memory from Joplin came in the middle of an uneventful afternoon in the Red Cross shelter.
A young girl turned 11 years old.
Because she and her family lost their house in the tornado, the shelter’s dining room provided the best place for a birthday celebration. To make the occasion special, a friend baked a cake and brought it into the shelter. The bright smile on the girl’s face demonstrated how happy she was that someone remembered her birthday.
When she saw me, she eagerly asked if I would like a piece of her cake. I said, “Yes, but only a small one, please.” She cut into the cake and handed me a piece three or four times larger than my definition of small.
I thanked her, honored to be including in her party.
As I ate the cake, I took special note of the girl’s sweet spirit. I imagined how she and her family had made other plans to spend the day in a completely different way. Not only did the tornado blow those plans aside, it destroyed the house where the girl and her family lived. Now, they were living temporarily in our Red Cross shelter.
I found it ironic that we were celebrating one of life’s milestones surrounded by such vivid evidence of how life’s circumstances can change so dramatically and unexpectedly. The tornado reminded us that life’s journey takes us over a winding, twisting road. For too many, the path came to a premature end.
Pushing aside those somber thoughts, I again thanked the girl for the cake.
Her mother, standing behind her, redirected my expression of gratitude. “No, thank you!” she said. “Thank you for being here to help us.”
It was a humbling experience. Although the mother was looking directly at me, I knew she was really thanking me for what I represented. As I stood there in my Red Cross disaster vest, I accepted her “thank you” on behalf of everyone who was part of the humanitarian relief efforts.
Although I ate the cake without sharing, I do feel compelled to share the mother’s “thank you” with countless others who were part of the team.
You were, in essence, standing right there with me if you were part of the Red Cross family in Joplin. You were also there if you are currently part of the Red Cross team anywhere across the country. In a very real way, you were there with me if you are a donor to the Red Cross, or to our partner agency, the United Way.
Yes, you were there. You helped in more ways than you probably know. You were part of the team that helped an 11-year-old girl and her family celebrate one of life’s special occasions.
On behalf of the girl, her family and her neighbors who face an uncertain future, allow me to share the softly spoken words of a loving mother: Thank you!