Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On Thugs and Panic and Thankfulness

I had a bit of a panic today. 

Maybe it was spurred by the dream I had last night, in which a tornado, played by a 500-foot tall giant thug, stomped its way around my town.  As he crushed and laughed, a few more thug-giants joined him, until there was nowhere left to hide.  Their flattening feet kicked and smashed everything in their paths, and they were happy about it.  After interminable minutes, they headed east and south away from us -- with grim smiles on their ugly faces -- leaving us alone, but with nothing. 

I woke up sweating but calm: they were gone.  It was over.

But the thing is, it's not.  Enter: my panic. 

We needed groceries.  And, determined to structure our days as normally as possible, I loaded the girls into our vehicle, and headed to town.  By now, they've been across the damaged swath, but we try not to linger. When confronted with the worst of the devastation, Mia's voice becomes babyish.  She speaks in cutesy tones and cuddly words; she reverts into a place of absolute protection.  She doesn't seem harmed, emotionally, but those baby-voiced sentences...they tell me that she's hiding herself from the fear.  But still, we have to get groceries, and the only way to it, is through it. 

With all of my concern focused on their little faces in the rearview mirror, I guess I forgot to prepare myself.  See, it's become a habit of mine to breathe deeply and only glance at what's directly in front of or beside me.  To see all of the devastation is too overwhelming.  But I forgot.  I was only going on an errand, only a quick drive into town...I forgot to get ready.

It hit me all at once, as I scanned the now-cleared horizon.  Miles and miles of wreckage.  Unfathomable, disgusting destruction.  Not having my deep breaths in store, I couldn't breathe.  It was too much.  It is too much.  I whispered words of horror and disbelief, while tears stung my eyes.

One of the truly fearsome parts about this huge tornado is that there was no hiding from it.  People have wondered why there was such a high death toll -- did we not go to our safe-places? -- even with advanced warning.  And I can't speak for the entire city, but I'm betting that most of us did.  Only, no place was truly safe within the tornado's reach.  You can hide in a closet or bathtub or crawlspace or even a basement, but what if your entire home is blown away -- closet and bathtub included -- or the forces of incredible wind and pressure crumbles your home on top of you in that crawlspace or basement?  There's no amount of planning or preparation to make you completely safe in an F5 tornado.

Only distance can do that.  We were approximately 3/4 of a mile from the tornado.  Sheltered by distance.

Then, the greedy thankfulness sweeps in and ruins me with guilt.  I'm so happy that we weren't in the tornado's reach.  We are so lucky that our closet remains surrounded by a roof and walls.  What terror must these people have experienced -- but not us...not us...

And no matter how many breaths I steel myself with, I can't escape that thankfulness.  I don't even really want to, because it isn't bad -- it's natural.  Still, the guilt pinches and pokes as I watch my girls play happily in the backyard.  They snuggle with their beloved blankies in safe beds at night.  All they know are sounds of comfort, not the roar of ripping winds.  Next time a storm comes through, they won't soil their pants or empty their stomachs in fear. 

They are still innocent, despite seeing the great, nasty stretches of ravaged land. 

I don't know where I'm going with this. 

I panicked; my daughters are still innocent; thankfulness is natural; the destruction is horrific.

And I forgot to get milk, so we have to go back across town later.

But at least we are all alive and housed and spoiled enough to think that an inconsequential gallon of milk is something to be needed.


  1. Haunting and sad and a new normal for too many people. Prayers for all.

  2. I think where you're going is toward healing ... that's why we write sometimes, right? Why we pour words that have been stomping around on brains onto computer screens -- to heal. I don't know this kind of devastation, but I know grief. And I know that when these things comes to mind, I need to write them out. No matter if there's a neat post to show for it all tied up and packaged or not. {Which yours is, but I just wanted to encourage you to keep writing it all out.} Love you, Sarah. Praying, praying, too.

  3. 3/4 of a mile. That's such a long distance and such a breathtakingly short one all at the same time. Hug those babies tight, including that one inside. Panic when you need to and know that we're here.

  4. Seems so surreal and real at the same time! Counting your blessings with you and praying for healing in your community!

  5. This really is an amazing post, noone really talks about this part of it. I am glad you did.

  6. I've been reading all your posts about the tornadoes. I didn't know you lived in Joplin. So heartbreaking. Praying for everyone there.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?