Friday, April 27, 2012

...when all the walls come tumbling down

The day after the storm hit Tuscaloosa: once, a neighborhood...photograph by William Nolen of William Nolen Visual Media


One year ago today, tornadoes swept through Alabama with a ferocity that left homes and hearts crushed across the state. Three weeks earlier, my son's family had been touched by a small F-1 that took the privacy fence in the back yard and blew the windows out of his car. He was at work when he looked out a large, glass wall and saw the funnel drop in front of the business. Capricious and lethal, these storms are an increasing rite of spring - and now, autumn - in the southeast. Tornado alley has expanded.


I was in Dublin, Georgia to attend my high school reunion when I heard the news. Bill's sister, Bonnie, was with me at her mother's house that week. Bill flew from California and joined us. We were getting ready for dinner when the first reports of a monster tornado with a mile and a half wide debris path were broadcast. The large storm scoured Tuscaloosa and then headed toward Birmingham, where it moved through a number of small communities just north of the city. 62 confirmed tornadoes in Alabama alone that day left behind total destruction, 247 fatalities, huge numbers of injuries - physical and emotional - and sorrow. Today's Birmingham News blog about the April 27th 911 calls captures the horror in the post's title: "The town is gone. Is there anybody coming?"


After many failed attempts to reach the kids that afternoon - cell towers were among the casualties that day - we finally heard from them. A short conversation: "We're ok but we're in the bathtub because another warning has sounded. Ciara's wearing my bike helmet..." Then silence. The thought of the kids huddled over my then-two-year- old granddaughter left me nauseated. An F-4/F-5 twister is merciless: roadbeds are lifted and eighteen-wheelers become gigantic pretzels wrapped around trees. A call from my daughter in Roanoke followed. Her husband was away on business and she was desperate for word from her brother. (Note to readers: I remember when they lived not-so-peacefully together at home...never expected this seismic shift in adult relationship. Sometimes I just say "thank you.") Unable to reach him, she reached me. I recall my exact thought when I heard her voice. "Thank God she isn't in the path of these storms." Then she said, "Mom, I'm in a closet with the dogs and cats (no small feat since the dogs are huge and the cats are, well, cats) because we have a tornado warning." In Roanoke, Virginia. My heart sank. 


We were lucky. Our family remained intact. Many did not. Below are links that I encourage you to read. Two, from The Birmingham News, describe that day in a very personal way. The other, is a FB page for Hammers and Hearts in Joplin, Missouri. You see, weeks later Joplin was blindsided like Tuscaloosa. Bill's childhood friend, from Dublin, Georgia volunteered there soon after the storms hit. He's still there. The description reads, "Hammers and Hearts was founded March 22, 2012 by Georgia native Ben Tarpley (yay, Benjie). Prior to establishing his not-for-profit disaster relief team, Tarpley partnered with other organizations by providing guidance to volunteer groups." So much is omitted in those few words...take a look at the site and see what wonders can happen via community when neighbors near and far lift each other up, instead of the other way around. Also, please visit the link to William Nolen Visual Media in Birmingham, Alabama. Sir William of  Immense Talent, Huge Heart and Wicked Sense of Humor took the photographs that accompany this post. 


This week a storm of another sort: a young man I love with all my heart was injured in an accident. Prayers for his recovery, for patience, for a deeper awareness of love are headed to his family from all-directions. Northern California Catholics who've never met any of the them are sending prayers. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Buddhists, and the Great Unlabeled have sent precious messages of encouragement, sympathy and hope. Two nights ago, as I lay in the dark and ached in the knowledge of his injuries, I heard myself say, "I've seen enough violence to last a lifetime and beyond. No more violence. Please, dear God, no more violence." 


I trimmed my "asking for" many years ago when I came to understand that I needed much more than the cosmic butler to whom I submitted my time-stamped, prioritized action list or a heavenly insurance agent. I needed mercy. I needed grace. Nothing wrong with asking but I needed to live in faith with my focus more on gifts freely given than my own wish lists. I needed to listen more and talk less. Still do. But this week, I issued a plea. 


"No more violence, please." My words won't change the world. Wars and weather and accidents are outside my purview. But I think of the words of Thomas Merton: "Violence is not completely fatal until it ceases to disturb us." 


I am disturbed. Somehow, I think that the Great Goodness is not offended by my plea. 


I prefer to see the army roll in to re-build...I think they do, too
Photograph by William Nolen of William Nolen Visual Media

Wars are not to be cheered but the men and women we send to fight them 
greatly need our love and support.

When weather strikes, hammers and hearts bring much healing.

And when a body is hurled with irresistable force against immovable objects, 
the menders mend and pray-ers pray. 

amen



Please visit these associated Links:


The Birmingham News: On April 27, 2011 Alabamians' lives changes forever: an hour-by-hour account    Part One


The Birmingham News: On April 27, 2011, Alabamians' lives changed forever: 'They're not breathing. They're not moving.'    Part Two


Hammers and Hearts not-for-profit, Joplin, MO


William Nolen Visual Media





2 comments:

Charles Van Gorkom said...

sitting with Job.

Celeste said...

i've spent time with your poetry this week...just what i needed. Thank you.