Last week I accompanied my friend Tracy to help our friend Kim do some clean up from the tornado. We all are in book club together but have known each other for many years before that. Kim and Tracy both live in Moore, Oklahoma, about twenty minutes from the farm. Kim’s house was hit directly and is without a doubt unlivable. Walking through the gutted and scarred place was chilling. Just imagining the sudden and extreme violence that would cause that kind of damage made me feel sick.
Any mood that day would have been understandable. Any level of anger, frustration, tearfulness, or despair would have been completely natural. But Kim surprised me. I was awed by how she handled everything She portrayed a one-woman, ground-level example of the spirit of Oklahoma.
Kim was literally all smiles. She was a bit shaky, sure, but really she floated through the debris and glowed with thankfulness and optimism Perhaps you’re thinking, Sometimes shock will do that; it will insulate a person and carry her through the worst, with a sort of numbness. Okay, fair enough. But there was a streak of intense awareness and gratitude in Kim’s countenance that totally inspired me. Her spirit has infused my attitude all week long.
As we worked, Kim told us more of her story. She described how close her son was to a very painful death. He had been in one of the elementary schools that was flattened. He was injured but miraculously, incredibly, survived. His little sister was at a nearby daycare, took shelter there, and also survived. Kim told us about how much her neighbors have endured. She showed us what needed to be done to move her family out of their shredded home. She thanked us a million times for doing, actually, very little. Because no work feels like very much in the midst of so much destruction. She introduced us warmly to her other friends and coworkers who had gathered to help, playing the perfect southern hostess. She apologized for her messy house, making everyone laugh much harder than we had expected to. She made sure everyone had icy cold bottled water as they worked. She had lost her house and most of her possessions, yet she was taking care of us.
Then she said, “I keep trying to complain, but I can’t. We are so lucky.”
Still tonight, just recalling her soft, pretty face as she said those words gives me the best chills.
How often do we complain about common, every day things? I certainly do. I complain about my hair. About my mile speed. The price of gas. How time flies or how it stands still. I complain about the weather, even though I tell everyone else not to. I complain about the dirty carpet in my car. And about how often the chicken coop needs to be cleaned. It’s almost an addiction. Complaining can be an easy but temporary pain relief. A sort of self medication to soothe your nerves, but it’s really like drinking salt water. Like worrying, complaining does not fix a single problem. It only causes you to magnify it.
Walking through the Briarwood area, Tracy and I saw block after block after block of unspeakable devastation. I don’t even want to describe it; you all have seen and heard enough of it already. But I did muster the nerve to snap a few cell phone pictures of just of the good things. The sparks of humor and brightness. Not surprisingly, there were plenty.
If you can’t see it yet, know that it will return.
And in the mean time we can find glimpses of paradise with each other.
The loss of life and security here in Oklahoma is unspeakable. Certainly. So it is without intending to minimize the very real grief around us that I want to encourage you to focus on the good when possible. Inventory your blessings. Count the miracles around you as often and with as much gratitude as possible. Because doing this not only lifts your spirits; it lifts the spirits of those near you, and it causes the good to multiply.
When you feel the urge to complain, remember it will not solve anything. Remember Kim and how she can’t complain because she is so aware of how blessed she is. Then take a deep breath and know that you can choose to see your life in the same joyful way.
Keep praying for Oklahoma!