Mama always said, dying was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t. — Forrest Gump
Sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump. Stuff seems to happen wherever I go.
At the time of the Cuban Missile crisis I was on diesel-electric submarine in Hawaii. I recall loading war-shot torpedoes and supplies for a 90-day patrol. Never did that before. We had to stack some canned goods in the passageways for lack of space. I was a Navy “Test Engineer” for the SSBN DASO operations during the Apollo space program when we lived on the base at Patrick AFB. I was on an advanced-design (Tang class) diesel-electric submarine out of Charleston not long after the loss of Thresher and Scorpion when we almost lost the boat coming out of overhaul on our first test dive. (The shipyard miscalculated the ballast.)
I was navigator on the heavy cruiser Saint Paul at the peak of Vietnam in 1969. I was Executive Officer of the NROTC Unit at the University of Kansas when the anti-war passions were at a peak. I got a job making satellite batteries in Joplin when the market for commercial and military satellites exploded. And now, here I am in the town that just experienced the worst tornado in Missouri history. It was just classified an EF-5, the top of the scale.
Something interesting happens psychologically when bad things happen. The world shrinks down to what we have to deal with. Forget Pakistan, Lindsay Lohan, OPEC, Dancing with the Stars, Osama, the Royal Wedding, Katie Couric’s job problems. We got trouble right here in River City, with a capital T, and that stands for Tornado.
Abraham Maslow published a landmark study in 1943 having discovered in a study of healthy people a basic truth about human motivation. People conform to a hierarchy of needs, beginning with things like food, clothing and shelter of course, but followed at the next level by “safety” needs such as security of body, employment, morality, family, health and property. When lower-level needs are filled we naturally become motivated by the next higher level, the lower one then taken for granted. At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is “self-actualization” which includes morality, creativity and other intellectual functions. But when disasters occur, either collectively or personal, I have observed that it’s quite natural for people to slide from a higher level back down to a lower one. I would say that Joplin has slid back down to the “safety” level for now.
Even though our house didn’t get hit, Mollie and I are right down there in the safety level with those who did get hit. Our perspective has changed. We find ourselves suddenly grateful for telephone, lights, heat, water out of the tap, togetherness in shopping for necessities. I find myself feeling a sense of guilty luxury in it all.
Do you know, the Postal Service delivered mail to our house Monday, the day after the tornado! I marvel at that small but significant event, evidence that society’s structure is resilient. Amidst the destruction people are gamely going about their jobs, determined to keep civilization together. We were in the Webb City Wal-Mart yesterday to get groceries. It was double-busy and the staff was gamely stocking shelves, hauling in bottle water and foodstuffs. People had a general grim look, and in that was determination, a determination that they were not going to let this disaster get the best of them. We are a Missouri tribe, united as one to get through this.
This is the kind of stuff that brought people together in WWII, that made the greatest generation. It’s happening again, at least on this momentary and notable point in history as we rise to the challenge of previously unthinkable damage. And some of us Forrest Gumps are here again to watch it all unfold. What a ride.