Friday, May 6, 2011


The sky fell on Alabama last week.
Over thirty tornadoes swept through North Alabama, tumbling trees, cars, entire houses into unrecognizable piles of rubble. Bricks and sticks, balls and dolls, and paper, so much paper.
A lot of the paper is photographs, torn and soaked in the rain. Irreplaceable portraits of loved ones, the frames splintered and the pictures blurred beyond recognition.
Volunteers are now sifting through the mess, trying to save the most precious possessions of people they do not know. Painstakingly they lift the broken pieces, looking for treasures. These are carefully placed in plastic bins for the resident of the destroyed house to go through.
Our lives were changed the day of the tornadoes. Some of us, like me, only lost electricity for five days. Others lost everything. Many lost their lives, over 230 people, including five members of one family. In that family, only one child survived. His twin did not.
We found candles and flashlights, propane stoves and – neighbors. People pooled the food that was going to go bad in their refrigerators and impromptu barbecues happened. I had a propane grill, my friend had instant coffee. That worked out well; several kaffeeklatches ensued.
We found stars. In suburban neighborhoods the streetlights blur the night sky. Suddenly there were hundreds more stars. Without the sound of air conditioners, we could hear crickets again. Little tree frogs sang us to sleep through our open windows.
We found our own music. Without the professionally delivered and packaged entertainment, we found our old instruments and dusted them off, found our voices and sang old tunes. I hope we keep singing and don’t forget the songs again.
We found our own resilience. Cold showers and spit baths will do that for you. We remembered how to stomp our dirty clothes in cold water in the bath tub and hang them out to dry on makeshift clotheslines.
We remembered how to pray, earnestly and sincerely and for people we had never met. We had no time to question why this devastation had happened to us. We just prayed and rolled up our sleeves.
In a disaster, people frequently forget to take care of themselves, forget to eat and sleep often enough. They are overwhelmed mentally as well and stress can cause them to become ill. The wise among the volunteers take time for themselves so that the next day they can work again. We need to look out for burnout among our fellow workers and tell them it’s okay to rest a bit.
Alabama the Beautiful will be so again. Eventually the debris will be gone, and the trees will be replanted.
Alabama’s people, helping each other, are beautiful now.