Friday, May 2, 2014

Because We Do

Why do you live there with all the tornadoes?

It is a question I have heard more than once in my life and usually after a week similar to this one. Unless you do not own a television (or you are reading from a place outside the United States), you have likely heard of the strong thunderstorms which have traveled across the midsection of our country, spawning tornadoes, and leaving heartbreaking trails of debris and broken lives in their wake. It is our stormy season here, and while not every week has a storm and not every storm has damage and not all damage is caused by tornadoes, when luck runs out and a tornado hits, we remember it clearly.

Most tornadoes are small, striking a few structures in a small town we only know as the place we drive through to get to somewhere else. Occasionally, a large storm hits nearby and we remember much more: the eerie green haze outside that signaled something bad was coming,* the sound of the storm sirens, the ominous clouds above, or the moment we first heard of the damage. If we are lucky, we are not affected. When we are lucky, we count our blessings, say a silent prayer, and thank the cosmos for saving us. This time.

Three years ago, an EF5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, leveling one-third of the town called home by roughly 50,000 residents with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. It was a Sunday night, and though my home stands 75 miles southwest of Joplin, many of us still recall the green haze we saw that night as the line of storms moved through our Ozark Mountains. A small tornado here or there is not unusual, but when the Weather Channel's storm-chasing reporter is reduced to tears on air as he steps from his vehicle amid the destruction so fresh that emergency personnel has not yet arrived, you know this one was big. And you remember the night. You hold your loved ones a little tighter. You say an extra prayer. You promise to call your mother.

Joplin changed us. After 40+ years of living in or near tornado alley, I bought my first weather radio in the week following the Joplin tornado. Though anywhere I have lived I have always had a place mentally selected for an emergency -- the hallway, the bathtub, the basement -- only after Joplin did I physically prepare a safe place with blankets, emergency supplies, and extra clothing. We take it more seriously now. It happened just down the road from us. It was only 75 miles away. My co-worker lost his mother-in-law in the Joplin storm. We found photographs and paperwork from Joplin homes in our yards, blown by the ferocity of the wind so far away. It was all too real this time. It did not just happen to people in news reports. It happened in our backyard. All of it was so close to home.

But why do we live here?

It's home. It's what we know. We are accustomed to storms and realize that not every storm is destructive, not every storm will turn our world upside down. If we moved anywhere else, that place would have its equivalent. California has earthquakes, Florida has hurricanes, North Dakota has blizzards, and the list continues -- flood, drought, quakes, shakes, shimmies, shivers, freezes, and blusters. No place is perfect, and wherever you live, you prepare for your area's equivalent. It's what we do.

We weather the storms. We pick up the pieces and figure a way to place them back together again. We hope we are stronger afterwards. We are born with a natural resilience that prompts us to stand up after we are knocked down.

Last Sunday night, a line of heavy storms moved overhead. I gathered my dogs on the bed, put the weather radio nearby, and watched the television coverage. We took note of the green haze as it appeared just before sundown, as it told us it would be a rough night. The evening was spent monitoring the signs and signals for a moment that would tell us to move to our safe place.  Luckily, we did not have to go. Our hearts ached for those when we watched the television coverage of the damage only 120 miles south of us in Mayflower, Arkansas. We were lucky. This time.

What we do not share, because the timing would seem odd after a night of destruction, is how beautiful the sky is the next day. We do not comment on it normally, but we notice it. The blue of the sky the next day is clear and rich and compelling. So compelling is its beauty that I stopped the car on the way home from work just to admire it. So compelling was its color that I forgot to take a picture. We rarely talk about it, but we never forget how beautiful the sky is after the storm.

I guess that's what it's all about: getting through the storm, knowing there will be something beautiful again, even if its just one blue sky. It's what we do. We stand up after being knocked down. We build again. We put the scrambled parts back together again and create a new normal. It will not be the same, but it will be. It will be a life again -- different, but life. Eventually, we will see beauty again, something so beautiful that it stops us in our tracks.

*Not always, but often there is a strange green haziness to the air when a particularly bad storm is approaching. I have witnessed it a few times. It is indescribable, but if you have seen it once, you will never forget it.

1 comment:

  1. I have seen the green haze more than once. It is one of eeriest things you will ever see. I too have a weather radio and last Sunday the radio was blaring and the tornado sirens were howling outside. We monitored the situation on went to the door to observe the storm. No you are not suppose to go to the window or open the door to watch the storm, but we did. We monitored the storm on the radar as it moved away from us. We waited for the sirens to silence and then we went back to bed. No we did not sleep much last Sunday, but that is part of living in this part of the country.

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