Over the Rainbow: reflections on a tornado

My storm radio alarm woke me this morning around twenty ’til 5 … a little earlier than I had planned, jarring me awake. Despite the darkness, I got up and took the dogs for a quick pee. I confess I was a little harsh in my tone of voice with them, but I didn’t want to stand out in the rain and I wanted them to hurry.

Then, it was right back to bed … just like most mornings. The only thing different on this morning was that I headed down to the basement with a pillow, a few blankets, and my dogs, instead of back upstairs to my own bed. There in the darkness, I heard the tornado alarms begin.

I didn’t hear rushing wind or feel the force of the storm. I do not have a tornado “story” to tell. I simply reclined with my dogs, bemoaning my uncomfortable position and the fidgety fear that can be so annoying in 60-pound and 80-pound dogs who don’t know that they aren’t human.

Half a mile.

That’s about how far my house is from the shopping center, the hospital, the housing complex, the businesses that were hit.

Half a mile.

As I lay reclining – complaining – people were dying.

It’s hard to believe that the helicopters flying overhead aren’t on their way to somewhere else. We’re not accustomed to “fame” here in little Harrisburg, Illinois. It’s almost exciting to see the name of my hometown at the top of the websites of major news networks, to see our mayor interviewed.

Except that it’s not.

I was the very first person to arrive this morning at the building where volunteers are being coordinated. Well, I was the second; a sheriff’s deputy was already on-site. My name is the first on the sign-up sheet to help, to do something, to do ANYTHING.

They don’t need me.

I called the local Presbyterian pastor (which is the denomination in which I am also a pastor) and offered help.

They don’t need me either.

So I sit – useless – at my computer, staring at the worship service that I was organizing for this coming Sunday while I listen to the police scanner. The worship liturgy doesn’t make sense to me anymore; the words no longer describe the world in which I now reside. I should begin to put together a different kind of service.

But not right now. Not yet.

I stare for a long time at the capsule in my hand, one of the vitamin supplements that I normally take each day. How strange to be planning for a healthy tomorrow, while surrounded by devastation. Another alternative doesn’t present itself, so I go ahead and swallow it.

The windows of my house are open to the sunshine and spring breezes, and the weather seems to mock the ache in my soul. I feel disoriented, so I look up the news sites and check the death toll, hoping that the numbers will have decreased.

I recognize the voices on the scanner … friends who serve as first responders and who are working in some useful employ today. I want to be there. I want to get in my car and drive to the site and walk around. I want to wrap arms with other people who feel my confusion and pain. I want to touch the rubble with my hands and weep over the remains.

But I don’t go there. I don’t even drive by. I know I would be in the way of the work that needs doing.

I hear people use the word “sightseers” for such behavior … but maybe we are mourners, who yearn to gather to pay our last respects and to remember and to try to come to grips with the loss. Or perhaps to find the only kind of reassurance available: that we’re still here.

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About MargaretAnne

Preacher, Writer, Aunt, Composter, Sew-er, Crafter, Dog-lover, World-traveler, Artist, Canner, Cook, Pray-er, Sister, Retreat-leader, Reader, Daughter.

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