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Watching clouds of destruction

The clouds gathered quickly, filled with doom, and darkened the sky. I stood on the back porch of our middle Tennessee home, where I lived as a young girl watching the trees sway in the wind.

I had witnessed intense storms before, but this one was bizarre because when I glanced toward the front of our house, the sky was a light, odd color.

“Mama, come here,” I yelled from the back porch as the winds became more violent.

“Let’s get to the basement,” she immediately exclaimed once she viewed the forming funnel cloud heading our way.

The tornado skipped us that fateful day, but the folks just south of us were not as lucky. 

After a few days, we drove to the area where an exquisite historic home once stood majestically among acres of hardwood trees. I couldn’t believe my eyes when all that was left recognizable was a toilet. The twister downed the mighty trees or snapped them into twigs. The home’s residents were spared because they had gathered in the small powder room under the stairs where the toilet remained. 

I was born in Putnam County, Tennessee, about twelve miles from where the unfortunate wrath of Mother Nature rained devastation last week on sleeping residents. This time, she took families, homes, animals, trees, and left nothing but tears in her wake. How quickly life can change. How rapidly we go can from sweetly dreaming to begging God, and how swiftly our security can be tossed to the wind.

As I write this, pangs of guilt stab me as I am experiencing the warmth of a Saturday morning sun beaming through the window in my office. I hear the faint hum of electricity as it flows to lamps and computers.

 I am surrounded by papers, family photos, books, and my old Bible. And, as I write these words, I am aware that all I see could be gone in a split second if I, too, stood in the path of imminent destruction.

Each time a tragedy strikes in our world, there is a part of us that is both thankful and mournful. We pray and mourn for those who have died due to Mother Nature, disease, or violence. There are more of us who are good people who sincerely care for others and try to do what is best than not. 

However, the one thing we are all guilty of is “distraction.”

We will go on about our lives, play our games, meet our friends, laugh away the day, and quickly forget the suffering of others because we are not experiencing it ourselves.

We do not live in the area which is decimated, nor are we the ones who will bury a child or a grandchild. We will wake up to another morning sun, fight over politics, complain about our bad backs or our bad luck, and not remember how fortunate we are not to be in the midst of such loss.

We become distracted by our abundance instead of being attracted to another’s needs. 

After Hurricane Katrina devasted the Gulf Coast in 2005, my husband and I traveled to New Orleans as quickly as possible to see what was left of his family’s homes. 

The closer we drove toward the Mississippi coast, the landscape changed from green to nothing. 

From Heaven to Hell in mere miles, and for miles, it was the same or worse. Folks never understood that Katrina destroyed an area the size of all Great Britain. 

To this day, down the streets, if you look carefully, Katrina still holds court. 

My life changed once I viewed such wrath. I realized how suddenly life and all I know can be gone within moments. I understand with clarity that children can be taken from my world, that disease can befall me, and that Mother Nature can visit my back yard at any moment because I am not immune to tragedy. 

Once we understand our shared vulnerability, the less we are to be distracted by silly stuff, which in the end is meaningless. What is meaningful and valuable is our compassion, kindness, and giving hearts.

My family has roamed the hills of Putnam County, Tennessee, for over 200 years. They cultivated the land, built their log cabins, and tamed the wilderness. Determined Tennessee folks will rebuild, and one day a sense of normalcy will return. 

However, they will never forget a sleepy night in March 2020 when the clouds rained destruction, and their world changed.

And, neither should the rest of us. Be thankful for all you have, and give all you can to those who lost so much. 

Please donate to Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee @CFMT.org or Cookeville-Putnam County Tornado Relief Fund.