When I was a child The Wizard of Oz came on tv once a year and every year I would thrill to the adventures of Dorothy and all her friends, while being terrified of the tornado and the flying monkeys. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. Either the flying monkeys would get me, or the tornado would. Tornadoes ended up being one of my big childhood fears…along with the hand under the bed.
Last Friday I stood in the debris field left by a tornado one week earlier. It had touched down briefly on a close mountain, killing 2 people and then landed again in Trenton, sweeping along 3 or 4 blocks, killing 2 more. To stand in that debris field was something I will never forget. You see the images on tv and it’s horrifying. To actually be there and see the devastation…it is something else completely. I had goosebumps and chills and tears in my eyes. My feelings were so complicated it has taken me days to sort them out. Now I know that my most overwhelming feeling was incredible sorrow that people had to suffer through this incredible force of nature. To see a childhood fear brought to life was horrifying as well. We just don’t want to believe that things this horrible can really happen in real life. We all have fears, some realistic, and some not. My ankle will probably never be grabbed by a hand under my bed. Tornadoes are another matter entirely. How do you escape a tornado? They are going to touch down wherever they choose. It is the randomness of them that adds to their scariness.
Both Jeanne and I have struggled to express the incredible impact viewing this debris field had on us.
Everyone we have chatted with has a story to tell. Some have neighbors who died. Some lost trees or roofs, and considered themselves lucky. Some lost power for several days. Several had tornadoes touch down within half a mile of their homes. There were many complaints about the news coverage. They lost several people in their community and their town was never mentioned. A town was completely flattened 2 miles from where we were staying…and it never made it to the news.
We saw trees toppled over and roofs partially gone in many places, but until we reached the actual path of the tornado, we had no idea just how bad it really was. We had to pull over and take it all in. On the side of one destroyed building was spray-painted a simple message. “Dont look…help. Thank you.” And in the end, that’s all we can do. Help those who lost their homes and mourn those who lost their lives. And pray that they never have to suffer this way again.