I’m offering a departure tonight from the Fall Hygge Challenge, because today I got to experience a first. I’ve heard of escape rooms but I’ve never participated in one before. Ten family members met at Escape Zombie City, located downtown at 106 S Joplin Avenue.
An escape room, also known as an escape game, is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints, and strategy to complete objectives. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secrets hidden within the rooms. Games are set in a variety of fictional locations, such as prison cells, dungeons, and space stations, and usually the various puzzles and riddles follow the theme of the room.
Tonight’s fun escape scenario involved zombies invading the city. The building we were in is a warehouse repurposed into a mock police station. So rather than escaping a single room, our task was to work our way through a 10,000 square foot building, divided into multiple rooms.
This is the story, as posted on the group’s Facebook page:
First room in the challenge. Photo from event Facebook page.
I don’t want to reveal any of the clues or the supplies that need to be found to escape the zombies. I will just say that we had so much fun as we worked out an escape. The storyline was well thought out and developed as we played, the props were wonderfully realistic and the clues challenging. We thoroughly enjoyed the edgy experience.
We screamed and ran in circles in the darkened rooms. Zombies were shot. Ultimately our group of ten came together, working well to solve clues and locate supplies. Laughter rang out as often as shrieks.
We didn’t escape. Time ran out. But we had such a great experience. Hours later we are still talking about how much fun Escape Zombie City was. The event runs weekends through the first week of November. It’s recommended for ages 12 and above.
This is not the post I had intended for this evening. But when I walked outside, after a day of rain, I was completely captivated by the sky! This beautiful display of billowing thunderheads, enhanced by soft pink, gray and turquoise, was not in the west, but due south. The setting sun was responsible. Yet I’ve never seen such an enchanting sky in the south as the sun dipped below the western horizon.
I love being surprised by beauty. It pierces the heart in a pure and profound way. This simple journey was the perfect end to the day.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” Rabindranath Tagore
I knew when I woke up this morning, that it wasn’t an ordinary Friday. As I moved from light slumber to full consciousness, I was immediately aware of a heaviness in the room, crowding me. It was overcast outside, not as light as it should have been, but that didn’t account for the somber stillness in the room.
And then I remembered….it was May 22. It all made sense then. Four years ago today, Joplin and its neighboring community of Duquesne were devastated by an EF-5 tornado that cut a path of destruction through the southern part of the city. In its wake lay the rubble of thousands of homes and businesses, piles of twisted cars and trucks, trees pulled from the ground or, if left standing, stripped of leaves, small branches and bark. Big box stores such as Wal-mart, Home Depot and Academy Sports were gone or severely damaged. St. John’s hospital was ravaged, as was the high school and numerous restaurants, churches, elementary schools and parks. One hundred and sixty one people lost their lives….men, women, children.
Our funny looking trees that survived the tornado
As I got ready for the day, I pondered the heaviness that I felt. I am intuitive and empathic, gifts since birth. I wasn’t just feeling sad, remembering the day. I was feeling the accumulated emotion of hundreds of people in the Joplin area, and beyond, who were feeling grief and sadness….who were remembering. I realized it must be a phenomenon created by the great disruption of energy, accompanied by intense fear and loss. And the loss was so massive, of life, of pets, of possessions.
I moved through my day, as I normally would, but with my awareness heightened, my emotions just beneath the surface, remembering as well. I took shelter during the tornado. I felt the house shudder and buck under the impact of wind and debris, windows shattering. I heard the horrific noise of my neighborhood being torn apart. I felt intense concern for my family members, and relief as one by one, they were accounted for. I hurried into the next block, with my heart pounding, to my youngest child’s house, or what was left of it, and felt the greatest of gratitude when I saw her standing in her yard, wrapped in a blanket. I don’t believe anyone living in Joplin that day was left untouched by what happened. The upheaval of the city shifted and changed lives.
A vacant lot where a house once stood
My path this morning criss-crossed through the tornado zone. I continue to live within the area. In the four years since the storm, I’ve grown accustomed to the sights and sounds of re-building, the vacant lots, which are decreasing in number, the funny looking tornado trees, as I call them. I was more mindful today, as I drove. On a corner a new bank is being built. Apartment buildings are going up nearby. New houses are filling in my neighborhood. Everywhere there were signs of growth, progress, rebirth. I cruised slowly through the area, really looking, carrying that collective heaviness like a weight on my shoulders and chest.
After a wonderful time this afternoon, spent with my grandson Dayan watching Dr. Who, I returned to Joplin and after a quick stop at home, headed out again. I was very aware of the time…5:20…the time the tornado struck. I knew where I wanted to go, to spend a few moments reflecting and releasing. I had not visited this place yet. It was calling to me.
On the old site of St. John’s hospital is a newly erected memorial. The hospital has relocated to just south of Joplin, and opened its doors in March of this year. The St. John’s Mercy Memorial Garden has a beautiful, spacious pavilion standing on the exact location of the former hospital’s chapel. High atop a grassy knoll, the serene space overlooks the newly restored Cunningham Park to the north, with its children’s play areas, memorials and the Butterfly Garden, and the new Irving Elementary School to the south. To the east are neighborhoods of newly constructed houses, testaments to the strength of Joplin in overcoming this tragedy. And to the west, where once there stood a vast medical community, there are empty spaces being reclaimed by grasses and nature. Perhaps, someday, buildings will stand there again.
I sat, alone, in this sacred place. Four years ago, the tornado would have just passed this place, leaving devastation behind. Closing my eyes, I could hear the roar of the wind and the sounds of breaking glass and screaming metal. I let that old energy rise within me and pass on through. There followed the cries of hundreds of people, in pain, in shock, in sorrow, accompanied by the persistent wail of sirens. I let those too pass through me. My emotions rose, briefly, fiercely…and they moved through. At last, there was silence. My shoulders, neck, head, jaws and chest hurt. The weight grew heavy indeed, pressing me into the bench. And yet, in that deep silent heaviness, I began to feel pools of hope. Alert, I opened to more. Eddies of life, currents of faith, pockets of healing were there, beneath the sorrow.
Beneath the pavilion
I breathed deeply and let it all pass through….the fear, the grief, the despair….and then hope, the ability to prevail, the spirit of unity…and Life. Beneath it all….Life. When I stood, the heaviness and pain had eased, carried away with the cool breezes swirling around me. I walked to the four sides of the pavilion and looked out in each direction over Joplin, my home, my community. I sent out love and gratitude and blessing. And peace. The wind brought back silence to me, and deep, sustaining peace in return. It was time to go home.
May 22, 2011. It is a day Joplin, MO residents will not forget. Cannot forget. Ask anyone who lived in this city on that day what they were doing at 5:30 on that Sunday afternoon, and they can immediately tell you. I was taking shelter in a closet under the stairs, with Greg. As we stepped inside that cramped space, the first 2X4 board came crashing through a window. The next few minutes were surreal. We first stood, then crouched, as the sounds of breaking glass, splintering wood, crashing debris and that unbelievable roar of fury assailed our ears. Briefly, I calmly considered that these were to be my last moments as the house shook and groaned and then began to lift upwards.
When I stepped out of the battered house, all I saw was ruin and rubble and brokenness. It is a sight seared into my brain. Thankfully, we were unhurt. Our family members were unhurt, although my mother’s house was also hit and my daughter and son-in-law lost their house and vehicles, riding out the storm a block from their home in the car. Joplin was changed. We were changed.
Much progress and healing has taken place since that day. We came together as a community, rolled up our sleeves, literally, and began to rebuild with the help of thousands and thousands of volunteers. We moved through our days, experiencing daily reminders of what had happened, and journeyed onward. On this, our third anniversary, we collectively remembered, and grew thoughtful, emotions rising with surprising strength.
For my first today, as I reflected on my journey and the city’s, I attended a very special dedication for a very special place, the Butterfly Garden and Overlook, located in the northeast corner of Cunningham Park. This park, located at 26th and Maiden Lane, took a direct hit May 22. It was completely destroyed. Work began the next day, clearing debris and cleaning it up. Located across the street from what was St. Johns Hospital, many consider this area ground zero. As the park was restored, it became a memorial park with a children’s reflection pool in honor of the lost children who would never play here again. There is a memorial wall with the names of the 161 victims of the tornado, a memorial fountain, a tribute to the volunteers, new playground areas for the kids, including a Boom Town play area built by Extreme Home Makeover while they were in Joplin, and 161 trees, one for each person lost.
It is very fitting that as we heal, a sacred space for doing so has been included in Cunningham Park. This beautiful addition is a collaborative project between the TKF Foundation, who believes in the restorative power of nature, Drury University, Springfield, MO, Joplin Parks & Recreation, Cornell University, US Forest Service, MO Dept of Conservation, Walmart Foundation, Forest ReLeaf of MO, Great River Assoc. and TILL Design. Sitting in front of this amazing space during the dedication, listening to representatives from the different organizations speak, my eyes filled with tears.
According to the program provided during the dedication, the Butterfly Garden and Overlook is an open space, sacred place for individuals to work through their grief over what was lost, whether a person or an object such as a home. The garden is set up to flow through four phases. “Accepting the Reality of the Loss” begins as visitors pass through the front door of the lost home. The path winds through the site, allowing for “Processing the Pain of Grief”. Benches are set up as points of reflection, including a bench with a journal beneath it so that visitors can write about their loss and “Adjust to a World Without What Was Lost”.
The steel outlines of the three homes represent all homes erased during the storm and storyboards placed through the first structure educate on the destruction, acts of heroism, survival and the miracle of the human spirit. “We Move On But Do Not Forget” completes the phases. The butterfly attracting flowers create a unifying circle within the garden. The waterwall has 38 segments that represent the minutes the tornado was on the ground. A void at minute 7 marks the moment the park was struck.
I was very moved as I strolled around the beautiful space, crowded with other visitors and yet still peaceful and serene. This quote by David Willard is on one of the fountains in the garden: “The biggest and most disastrous moments in a person’s life can be the most defining of a person’s character and a person’s heart.” I would say that is true of a city also. It is true of Joplin. I am grateful for the organizations that have brought this idea into existence and for the promise of restoration that it offers. I will return here often to think, to write, and to allow my own memories to heal.