Monday, May 2, 2011

Hitting home

I must take time out to be a bit more serious in this post. At the risk of bumming you out, I feel it's important to talk about an event that has affected me, but more importantly thousands of people from my home state of Alabama. No doubt you saw the horrific images on the news last week of the damage that a massive system of extremely strong tornadoes created. When my clock radio woke me on Thursday, incidentally the day my dad was leaving, they announced the death toll, at that time about 50. Now it's officially over 200 with 400 still missing and probably feared dead.

This is another moment when living away from your home can be tough. Even though there are times I may feel downright European, I will always be true to my roots and any time I hear the name of my state on TV, my ears perk up. And though no wind came through my little city in France, I can still feel the force all the way from here.

I almost didn't want to go online and look at the images or watch the videos. But I knew I needed to. My mom sent me a link to a weather blog done by the weather man I grew up listening to. The videos of the destruction made tears roll down my face. Catki jumped up in my lap at that moment and I was comforted to pet his silky head absently as I looked at the aerial footage of neighborhoods that have been sadly reduced to splinters. I can't imagine how horrible the loss is for those people. A house is one thing, a family member can never be replaced though. There are too many sad stories that leave us feeling helpless.

I feel even more so being far away. As my sister said, it's survivor guilt. Somehow we feel guilty that we aren't affected. And we start to wonder why. Again, even if I'm not living there, I felt a twinge of guilt walking down the streets of my town on a deliciously sunny day, knowing that my apartment and family were safe, but so many others in my state were suffering. My US family, by the way, were luckily not touched either. Where they live was not as damaged though trees did fall down.

When you grow up in the south, you get used to the threat of tornadoes. At school we practice tornado drills in addition to fire drills. We would go into the hallway and basically get in a crash position, squatting on our knees, heads down, arms and hands covering our heads. I can remember many a time getting up close and personal with the school linoleum on these occasions. And as I'm a spring baby and that's often the worst season for tornadoes, there were a few birthdays we spent watching the weather or even heading down to the basement of huddling in the bathroom (supposedly the safest room of the house if you don't have a basement). It's not stuff to be messed with.

But we live with it, just as the Japanese and Californians do with the threat of earthquakes, and the coastal towns live with the ominous possibility of hurricanes. And so I'm reminded, once again, that life hangs by a thread and shouldn't be wasted on complaining about stupid things. Or that even though "there's hell on earth/ there's heaven, too/and not a second to lose" (Neil Finn, from the album Time on Earth). Maybe that, beside giving a donation, is the best way I can honor those who didn't make it or are grieving now.


Amber said...

I know exactly what you mean, Mil. I'm from the south too and I also grew up doing those drills. Usually we get hit by hurricanes instead of tornados, but when I read about "storms ripping across the south" my heart hurt because that could have just as easily been my home town. I'm glad to hear that nobody in your family was hurt.

Crystal said...

Such a poignant post and I could really feel your sadness. I'm so happy your family is ok, but terribly saddened by all the other lives lost. Alabama will always be "home" to you I think, as Canada will be for me, and I think it's totally normal that the tornadoes had the impact on you that they did. Out of sight doesn't mean out of mind. Thinking of you and all the other people going through this. Hugs.

Jessamyn said...

As I went out this past weekend to mow the grass and clean up the yard, I felt ridiculous. I was only doing it to keep up with the neighborhood - so my yard didn't look messy. And yet, there are thousands of people right now who couldn't care less about their yard - because their house is damaged, or gone, or a loved one is dead. You're right to remind yourself to be grateful every day and live in the now. I'm trying.