LESLIE CRISS: Aftermath of tornado brings renewed faith of folks

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”

George Bernard Shaw

“While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many.”

Lady Bird Johnson

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LESLIE CRISS

LESLIE CRISS

Two weeks ago, mid-afternoon, I spent several hours in the basement of my east Tupelo home with my best friend, our neighbor and her two daughters, their Bassett hound and our three dogs.

We heard no sirens, but believed when Matt Laubhan said it was time to get to our safe place.

When we emerged after the tornado had taken a toll on our town, I tried to get to Lakeshire to get a friend whose house had been badly damaged. I could not get close.

Without television for the next few days, I relied solely on the Daily Journal for my post-tornado news and photographs. I was home recuperating from surgery, so let me just say how proud I was – and am – of the remarkable job my colleagues did after the storm. Print is not dead.

I stayed away from the storm-ravaged areas for several days rather than get in the way. But days later, when I did venture out, I experienced a profound feeling of deja vu.

When I graduated from college in 1979, my first job as a teacher of junior high kids was in Biloxi, and I lived in Ocean Springs.

I’d spent much time on the Gulf Coast when I was growing up, as my father attended the Mississippi Municipal Convention as city councilman and then as city manager of my hometown for as long as I can remember.

My first visit to the Coast after Hurricane Katrina is one I won’t forget. I drove in after dark, so it was the next morning before I drove down Highway 90. Enough time had passed that most of the debris and devastation had been dealt with.

But I had no idea where along that great strip of beachfront I was. There were no more landmarks, none of the familiar places I’d spent my summers visiting. My heart ached for what was no more.

That’s how I felt when I made my first post-tornado drive down McCullough Boulevard and North Gloster. I twice lived in the Joyner area, and I’ve only heard about the devastation there and other areas of the city and county.

It’s heartbreaking aplenty to witness natural disasters on television or read about them in the newspaper. But when it hits right where you live, where you’ve pumped gas, enjoyed food and fellowship with friends, it takes my breath away.

And then the loud humming of multiple chainsaws sound. Neighbors and strangers alike reach out to help. Folks from all over donate food, water and whatever else is needed.

The heartache remains, yet hope is restored.

And faith in humanity soars.

leslie.criss@journalinc.com