Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekly Column: Delicate Honesty in the Midst of Horror

We took shelter in the closet, but only at my husband’s insistence.  If I’d have been left to my own devices, I would have been pacing the windows or the porch to watch the beauty of the storm despite the siren’s wail. 
To be honest, I’ve heard the sirens hundreds of times in my life – all of which has been spent in this Southwest Missouri town – and never seen an actual tornado in my vicinity.  Damaging winds, sure.  Heavy hail, yes.  Deadly tornadoes, never.  It’s not that I didn’t take the sirens seriously, but that I didn’t think we, personally, had much to fret about.  Somewhere half a county away, perhaps; those people should take cover.
But since I have more to worry about now than my own safety, I corralled the kids into the closet with our flashlights and cell phones, and we waited.  We talked about why we were there, and how it was just a precaution.  We made shadow shapes on the wall as the hail peppered our roof.  We raised our eyebrows as the rafters groaned above us. 
And then we came out to a whole, safe house.  I rolled my eyes at my husband’s paranoia, but allowed that his ‘you never know’ had some merit. 
We sat down to finish our dinner by candlelight.  We had no idea what had happened half a mile north of our home. 
Now, it’s several hours of radio coverage and news stories later; it’s several trips across town to check on relatives; it’s several sleepless nights of worrying about lost homes and lost friends, and we know the truth of the tornado.  Our kids know.  Their schools, their routines, their worlds are different, and it’s unable to be glossed over. 
Still, I hate to present our little ones –they of such tender hearts – with stark reality in its purest form.  We tell the truth so far as we are able, and carefully: your school is no longer there.  We can’t go get groceries as usual because the building is gone.  We won’t be going to church because it’s been torn away. 
We answer their questions with delicacy and attention – now is not the time to blow off their curiosity, if ever there was such a time. 
What we don’t say – what we haven’t said because it hurts too badly – is that people have been torn away, too.  We talk about the pain of the tornado in terms of houses and places, but it’s too hard to let the children know right away about the deadly aspect.  At least, it’s too hard for me. 
And the fortunate part is that they don’t have to know just yet because nobody they know has been lost.  I will continue to hope that remains true over the coming days of search and rescue, but not just in the way that it will shield my children from horror – I will hope for the other, obvious reasons: so that our dear city won’t be this tornado’s burial ground for any more lives. 
So my daughters paint pictures in the meantime.  They sing and play around our worry.  They see the news coverage, and question it.  They demand more attention, more hugs, more love.
And they get it.  Because the act of giving it calmly keeps me from falling apart at the seams.


  1. I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and, like you, never had to deal with the reality of the destruction a tornado can unleash first hand.
    Now, I am half a country away from the devastation, but as a mother, my heart is breaking for all those affected by this disaster. I hug my little one a little longer too, and wrestle to find peace with all of this.

  2. Praying alongside you. I cannot imagine how hard the reality is as you're daily faced with it.

  3. Truth, edged with love, it is the best we can give. Your job of cushioning this blow is a big one. But I know from smaller, personal grief that that act of calm love kept me whole.

  4. There are no words I can say to make you, your kids or myself feel better. I just feel so helpless 2 a hours away. I gave to the Red Cross, but I just want to give hugs to everyone.
    I didn't go to church this week, why I don't know. Maybe I feel God doesn't care, but I know better.
    I say my prayers every day, every night. And when I mention Joplin, it's for the living, the missing and those that are still to be recovered.
    Time heals all, but please God hurry up.

  5. Prayers headed your way yesterday from here in Canada as our church said a special prayer for those in Joplin.

  6. I am so sorry, Sarah. I, too, was born and raised in the Midwest and never feared a tornado siren. Until now. You are such a good mama. Take comfort in your beautiful girls and here-before-you-know-it boy! My prayers are with you.

  7. I found your blog through "I should be folding laundry". I was in Joplin yesterday to help a friend (I'm from KC) and the devastation is unreal. I'm so sorry for your town.

  8. Terrible. I grew up in Ohio - also listening to sirens - used to them - used to even hearing of a roof torn off when a tornado touched down or a tree falling on a house - used to how the water will sometimes disappear in the toilets, the sky will get green, the air will be still and silent just before, but.... I will never be able to fathom the damage done and lives lost in just an instant or a couple of minutes. It is such a scary reality. I am so sorry for your town.

  9. A sad post to have to write but well expressed.

  10. What an experience. I am glad you all safe and sound and some of the lucky ones. Sending strength and good thoughts your way.

  11. Oh Sarah, this breaks my heart. It's the first real encounter I've read about the tornados. I'm so grateful that you and your family are all safe, and that no one you know was lost. I hope that those around you are able to put their lives back together, and that you can spare your kids the worst of the details.

  12. sarah with each post you share an amazing personal and eye opening view of the beautiful life in small town america.

    this post has brought tears to my eyes.

    thank you and you make the world a wonderful place again...



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