We are barely five months into the year and the American people have already suffered a great deal of disaster and heartbreak; 2013 has certainly brought extreme highs and lows. In spite of the tragedy we have faced, Americans have been nothing shy of resilient, jumping up to persevere when it would have been understandable to remain down for the count. Undoubtedly, the rapid rebuilding, both physical and emotional, has been largely fueled by the uninhibited kindness we have shown one another from far and wide. Over the last couple of days, mother nature has put us in tragedies path once again, yet our faith and love seem to be as strong as ever. It has been less than 72 hours since one of the most destructive tornadoes on record hit Moore, Oklahoma, but the bravery and kindness that has been shown in the aftermath poses as the perfect ammunition for the victims fighting back.
Churches throughout the city of Moore have remained open to help provide shelter and food for those members of the community who have found themselves with nothing. Neighboring congregations have collected and passed out work gloves and Gatorade to aid in the safekeeping of residents working to sort through the piles of debris that were once their homes. The parking lot of a local grocery store was turned into a giant barbecue, offering free hamburgers and hot dogs, fresh cookies and drinks to victims and first responders. Moore, Oklahoma has shown that it is a tight knit community with members more than ready to love thy neighbor. Even before the rest of the world could learn of the devastation the city faced, local police officers and firefighters raced to the aid of the most urgent victims, saving hundreds of lives.
The outpouring of kindness has been admirable, but some of the most courageous and selfless of heroes offered their bravery in the greatest hour of need. Before the damage was done and well before service members, neighbors, celebrities or Red Cross volunteers could flood the streets with man power and good will, the teachers and caretakers of the city stepped up and risked their own lives to ensure the safekeeping of Moore’s children. Reports of day care employees and educators protecting young kids and students before themselves, using their bodies as human shields against fierce winds and falling debris, have been surfacing since the storm winds subsided. One mother reported that she owed the lives of her two sons to their caretaker. Across town and unable to protect her babies herself, she was overwhelmed with gratitude when she found her boys alive thanks to the care provider who crouched down and held them out of harms way.
Other news outlets have shared the story of Becky Jo Evans, a first grade teacher at Plaza Towers Elementary, who moved as many of her kids to safety as possible before taking their lives into her own hands. Being in the direct path of the EF5 tornado, Evans had little time to react to the storm, but quickly began moving her students into a nearby bathroom. As the winds picked up and the walls caved in, she knew she was out of time and jumped on top of the remaining students to protect them the best she could.
In perhaps one of the most heartwarming accounts of events that took place at Plaza Tower Elementary, fellow teacher Rhonda Crosswhite was thanked by a fourth grade student whose life she helped to save. Crosswhite, a sixth grade teacher, did everything in her power to protect not only her students, but all the children of Plaza Tower as the raging storm hit the school. Damian Britton, a fourth-grader whose brother is a student of Ms. Crosswhite’s, found himself stowed away in the bathroom with her and her class. When Britton thinks back on the event, he credits his brother’s teacher with saving his life. “She was covering me and my friend Zachary. We told her we were fine because we were holding on to something and then she went over to my friend Antonio and covered him. She saved our lives.” Yesterday morning, when Britton was reunited with Ms. Crosswhite and given the opportunity to thank her, he was speechless and teary eyed as they embraced each other and didn’t let go.
This brave, honorable teacher recounts hovering over students while repeatedly telling them not to worry. “Quit worrying, we are fine,” she remembers exclaiming to a sobbing littler girl in her homeroom. “We are going to be fine. I am going to protect you.” As Crosswhite was using her own body to protect the children entrusted into her care, she decided to say a prayer. Most will not be surprised to know that she didn’t ask God to watch over her but instead prayed, “God, please take care of my kids.”
As Britton finally released his grip on his teacher, she shown that her love and instinct to protect and care for her students is everlasting when she said, “See, I told you and Bobby we were going to be okay, didn’t I?”
We have been taught that there is “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another.” Ms. Crosswhite, the entire faculty and staff at Plaza Towers Elementary, all educators and Moore city school employees and care takers within the community are a living, breathing example of this notion. Parents often hope that the teachers they turn over their children to will love them like they are their own. It is safe to say that the day the tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, these educators not only loved their students as if they were their own children, they also loved them more than they loved themselves, stopping at nothing to protect them.
Lance West, anchor for Oklahoma’s News Channel 4, proclaimed in the aftermath of the storm, “The worst in mother nature brings out the best in human nature.” Truer words have never been spoken. Moore City may have been hit with one of the most destructive weather patterns in history, the worst mother nature has to offer, but the bravery and kindness that has been shown by it’s community members is the ideal representation of the type of kindness we always hope exists within human nature.
Sending thoughts and prayers to the city of Moore, Oklahoma and gratitude and admiration to Ms. Crosswhite and her fellow educators. You are a shining example of kindness and selflessness in the midst tragedy.
Anyone who is able and willing to help the people of Moore, Oklahoma can learn all about the ways to contribute on NBC News.
Feature Image via Town Maps