Day 160: Weather Channel: Twisted Believers


We are well past the anniversary date of the May 22, 2011 tornado. Being safely into the month of June brings sighs of relief to Joplin residents. However, the Weather Channel broadcasted a special this evening on the Joplin tornado, called, interestingly, Twisted Believers. My mom, who has satellite and the Weather Channel, invited me over to watch the documentary with her, for my first today.

I wondered about the title. It comes from a statement that traumatic events, like an EF5 tornado that devastates a town, can change lives and twist commonly held beliefs. The show looked at three such beliefs that shifted as a result of the Joplin tornado and another tornado that struck Ruth, AL the same year.

The first segment covered a topic that became familiar after the tornado, the appearance of angels during the storm. Many children told stories of being protected during the storm by huge butterflies that shielded them. Adults spoke of seeing tall men in spotless white clothes who assisted them during and after the tornado. Tonight’s program focused on two young ladies, Emily and Mason. Emily and her family were caught in their vehicle as they tried to get home after the Joplin High School graduation. Their SUV was picked up and battered. Emily suffered from a 14 inch gash in her thigh and bordered on consciousness as she bled heavily from her wound. As her family sought to free her from the damaged SUV, Emily felt a presence near her, and a hand on her shoulder. A voice told her not to worry, everything would be okay. She felt peace settle over her and knew she would survive.

Mason and her grandmother and brother waited in the truck on the parking lot of Home Depot while her grandfather shopped. There was nowhere to take cover as the tornado bore down on them. Mason saw two angels with her in the backseat. The truck was thrown more than 100 yards. After the storm she was alive but realized she was pinned to the seat by a metal bar that had pierced her body. She too felt a comforting hand on her shoulder and the sense that all would be well. Both girls recovered fully, their scars a testament to their injuries.


The second segment covered a less familiar occurrence after the tornado, paranormal phenomenon. The show explored the happenings around a man named Nick who lost his home in the storm. His neighbor was killed. After he and his sister moved into another home near Joplin, they began to experience unusual activity in their new house. Lights flashed on and off, unexplained noises were heard, the dogs were disturbed at night by something only they could see, and Nick’s sister saw an apparition of a man with a board through his body. A paranormal investigative team, led by Lisa Livingston Martin, of Joplin, set up sensitive equipment to capture any activity. They did record activity, including a voice speaking that reassured the home owners that the energy in the house was not hostile. My belief about such phenomenon is this: I believe everything is energy, or another word for it would be spirit. With the sudden and catastrophic destruction and loss of lives that happened, a huge amount of energy was released into the area. For a time, there was a great deal of energy or spirit moving about and through the tornado zone. It is dissipating with time.


Lisa Livingston Martin and Paranormal Science Lab

The final segment was about a young girl named Ari who lost her parents, grandparents and a baby cousin during an April 2011 tornado in Ruth, Alabama. For six months before the storm, Ari had dreams of losing her family. Everyone assured her that they were only dreams, and yet, Ari’s premonition came true. When Ari’s grandparents’ house was hit, Ari was picked up by the tornado and carried 200 yards. She later told the story of going to heaven while she was inside the tornado. She spoke of seeing a staircase rise to two huge doors with diamond doorknobs. An angel who called her by name and held her hand led her through the doors, where she saw her family who had just passed during the tornado. The baby was held in the arms of Jesus. Ari was led back down the staircase, and awoke in a field. She was 6 years old at the time. Ari has since written and illustrated a book about her experience, titled, “To Heaven After the Storm”.

A thunderstorm moved into Joplin this evening as my mom and I were watching this show. Her television lost its signal with 10 minutes to go during the program, just as Ari was describing her trip to heaven. We chatted and checked weather and calmed the dogs. As we waited to see if the signal would return, I googled Ari and found the rest of her story online. The storm moved quickly through and the signal was restored for the last 2 minutes of the show. What irony!

This was an interesting program. It confirmed for me that the world is full of deep mystery and sometimes fury, angelic intervention and sometimes unspeakable tragedy. It is a beautiful, wondrous, magical place and we don’t know or understand everything. I agree with Shakespeare, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies….


Day 49: Angels for Joplin Exhibit


For today’s first, I visited the Joplin Public Library’s Post Memorial Art Library, where the Angels for Joplin Exhibit is displayed. Perhaps because it was in the library, or perhaps because of the nature of the exhibit, there seemed, to me, to be a quiet reverence in the room.

Artist Tricia Courtney created these angels, known as assemblage sculptures, from debris after the May 22, 2011 tornado struck Joplin. Tricia has made hundreds of such angels, selling them and then donating the proceeds to help with tornado relief. Many people who lost their homes brought items they had salvaged to Tricia and asked her to create an angel for them.

Almost three years after the tornado and I’m still deeply moved when I see items made from debris, when I hear of stories like this. The emotion of that day is forever seared into my heart and soul. The sights and sounds will never leave my brain. Some of that emotion rose in me today as I looked at Tricia’s angels of hope. Memory stirred and then settled down, leaving a slightly increased heart rate and moisture in my eyes. These sculptures were made with debris that came from my neighborhood. It seemed so significant, that I’d been drawn to view the exhibit and then discovered that fact.  The broken scrap of wood and that rusty vent cover might have come from my neighbor’s house, my daughter’s house. It was sobering.

And yet I felt hope and a sense of the miraculous, looking at the sculptures. The real stories associated with these angels came immediately after the storm. Many, many tales surfaced about how angels protected survivors.  Stories were told of tall muscular men in spotless white clothing who appeared in the midst of the chaos to help and then, impossibly, disappeared. Children spoke of giant butterflies that covered them and their loved ones. I believe those stories. They are an integral part of Joplin’s history now.

I appreciated each unique angel and the creative and compassionate heart of Tricia Courtney. And I appreciated the reminder that life and hope win out, no matter how severe the storm. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I choose the latter. Thank you, Tricia, for helping me to remember that today.