What Tornadoes – and Other Disasters – Can Teach Us About Living

Posted: April 28, 2014 in Life Lessons
Tags: , , , , ,

Live in the South for any length of time, and sitting huddled in a small space while wailing sirens blast outside your window becomes an expected, but not any less terrifying, event. For some who experienced this scenario on the night of April 27, 2014, the tornado sirens weren’t enough to save them. Entire towns were decimated and more than a dozen lives were lost.

I speak of this because the destruction occurred a mere 3 hours drive from my own house, and in fact we were watching most of the evening to see where (and if) these storms would arrive. While we were home, enjoying a Sunday evening with our family, other people not very far from us were standing at the wreckage that was once their home, wondering how they would be able to pick up all the pieces and rebuild their lives.

Still others weren’t so lucky. They lost their lives in a tornado that barreled through in a half-mile swath, not caring or knowing what the cost was. Please take a moment to say a prayer for or think of their families this day, because yesterday they were here with all their plans, goals, dreams, and struggles.

Pray for AR

Today, they are gone.

A storm is just a storm. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hurricane, a tornado, a snowstorm. It’s just weather created by a convergence of air, wind, pressure, and temperature. It doesn’t care if you’re a parent, a child, or a friend. It doesn’t care if you spent two years of time and money rebuilding after the last tornado came through and destroyed your home. It just forms, then goes away, and leaves behind the wreckage.

As a tiny community, a small town, a state or a nation, we mourn, we pray, we help, we donate. We move on, and we rebuild, and we live our lives despite (or sometimes in defiance of) what can and often does happen.

We hear so much about the people who are mentally unwell, criminals, liars, cheaters, rapists, murderers, whole countries that seemed to have lost their minds. It’s newsworthy, it is in newspapers, on the 6 o’clock report, in magazines, and now on social media. We can’t escape. We’re fed a daily dose of heartbreak, terror, and greed. It’s enough to make some people vow to stop getting the news, and others to simply become numb to it.

But if you look for just a moment, when a disaster strikes or an unexpected tragedy occurs, you see people respond. People who lost everything vow to go on, to start fresh and to be thankful their life and that of their family members were spared. Communities pull together, donations pour in, and strangers take it upon themselves to help.

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the path of a tornado, or live on a flood plane, or live on a hillside overlooking the ocean, life is precarious to begin with and anything could happen at anytime. Yet we all still choose to live despite all the staggering odds stacked against us. We love our children, and laugh at jokes, kiss our spouses goodbye, and are grateful to spend ten minutes sitting on a porch with a cup of hot coffee, just watching the world go by.

And when bad things happen, for example, when I see the images of the aftermath of a tornado like the one that formed right after the very storm that spawned it passed over my house – a storm that flipped tractor trailers, sent the contents of homes flying through the skies – we feel so many things: relief, empathy, anger, and maybe most strongly of all, purpose. The first thing many people say in response to disaster and tragedy is, “What can I do to help?”

We’re a nation of people who care. We care about our own lives, the lives of our children and their friends, and we care about people who are handed life’s deepest blows. Instead of turning away, many people turn toward them and offer a hand.

We’ll never be able to understand why three houses on a block are flattened while the one on the corner stands, or why a family is swept away in a mudslide, yet one child is rescued. Maybe we’re not meant to understand.

In a world that can often seem confusing and violent, it’s comforting to know that when you are in your darkest hour, there will be somebody, maybe even a whole town or state of somebodies saying “I care and I want to help.”

And if you’re not in you’re darkest hour? What if you wake up in the morning to the news of a plane crash, a storm, a car accident, a tragedy, and you’re still here? You get to get up and start your day, just like any other, and you feel that little tinge of guilt, or gratitude, or maybe both. It can make all those petty things that go wrong seem so very insignificant, when we’re faced with a situation of such huge magnitude and we realize we were spared, and we get to live our lives even if for one more day, maybe for many more days.

This morning, I got out of the shower and found that my dogs, who had gone outside to go to the bathroom (literally) just before I got in the shower, had done their business inside again from one end of the house to the other. I admit it – I was so mad! On my knees in only a bath towel with paper towels and a spray bottle cleaning up FIVE spots of what was clearly a violent case of, excuse my French, “the shits.”

This was after I had read the news reports and saw the videos of the weather the night before. As I closed up the bag filled with the contents of my dogs’ insides, I thought to myself, I bet every one of the people who lost their homes last night would give anything to be able to clean dog crap off the floor if it meant their house was still standing. In the grand scheme of my life, the accident on the floor was just an irritating moment, and it would pass and likely be forgotten.

As I think about yesterday’s storms, I am reminded that every one of us are here for a reason and no matter what it is that we plan for and dream about and work toward . . . it matters. Even if it seems silly or small, it still matters because it’s important to you and your life.

So what did the news of yesterday’s tornadoes -so close to home for me – teach me about living? Here’s my thoughts:

  • Don’t ever give up on something you know deep down is important. Whether it’s a degree, a career change, starting a new hobby, or spending time with someone you love, if it’s important to you, any time you spend on it is progress toward your goals and dreams. Even making a small (tiny!) step today will get you that much closer.
  • Hold people close, stuff not so much. If your whole house and everything in it was gone tomorrow, would you be upset? Of course. But how does that compare to the people in your life that you love? You can take my house and stuff ten times over as long as my family and friends are safe.
  • Care. Maybe you care about helping abused children, or rescuing pets, or raising money for cancer research. You can never care too much about the stuff that matters to you.
  • Do the things that you say you want to do. Don’t put them off. Start saving for that family trip, or re-read that favorite book, or take a hike on the nature trail. If there’s a “I wish I could” in your life, think about how to make it possible. Even a small act, like labeling a jar for change to start saving for that wish, is a step in the right direction.
  • Live your life. It’s your life, and it was given to you for a reason. Some days suck, some days are mundane, and some are amazing. But it’s all yours to do with it what you will. Get mad, love fiercely, volunteer your time, smile, and comfort someone who needs it. Never pass up the chance to make your mark with your life. It’s what we’re here to do, and there’s no guarantees.

 

If you are interested in seeing coverage of the April 27 tornadoes, here are some links:

KFSM Channel 5 news report (my local TV station)

Video of the tornado by storm chaser Cotton Rohrscheib

Extensive coverage from KHTV, the Little Rock AR news affiliate

 

Also, if you’re interested in how you can help, here’s a great resource:

KFSM report on tornado relief services

A local church also has great advice for what to do when a disaster occurs and you want to help (Hint: don’t just show up! That makes the jobs of the emergency responders harder!)

Tornado Update – How to help

 

 

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