Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.
— Victor Hugo
I recall Hurricane Frederic so well. It hit land, straight out of the Gulf of Mexico, on the night of September 12, 1979 and headed 129 miles northwest to us in Frankville at which point it was still a hurricane. I don’t know what time it was when we witnessed the sound of trees falling, whatever the wind could pick up and carry being tossed around and into whatever was in the way, the tin on our roof rolling up like carpet, and the attic fan catching on fire, but it was very dark. It was very scary. Daddy and Dandy had moved the livestock to high ground or inside the barns so not many were lost, though some were. Part of the pasture flooded, but most of the damage was to the land and to structures. It was a humongous devil of a storm, with an eye fifty miles wide and forty high at its largest point.
I remember my Mama telling me, when we knew Frederic was heading for us, to sleep in my clothes because we might have to go get in a ditch. I thought it was funny that she said that, as I have always had a tendency to picture everything that is described quite literally, but I now know my finding it humorous only indicates my insulation from the dangerous situation we were in. For all of my parents’ struggles and their tendency to create disasters of their own, they were pretty good at handling the ones with which they had nothing to do. We’d stockpiled water and supplies, and Daddy, I suppose, had gotten fuel for his chainsaws because as soon as it stopped raining, we were all outside, clearing pathways and roads. Everyone, even seven-year-old me, got to work. I’ll never forget the smell of the sawdust that lingered that month and beyond, or toting armload after armload of wood that we would use for firewood that year to the truck.
Hurricanes let you know they’re coming. Tornados do not. Some say the sirens in Nashville didn’t work properly in the wee hours of March 3 and that they weren’t heard until the tornado was already carving a hellacious path through the city and surrounding areas. Closets, bathtubs, and basements were the only places to scramble into with no notice.
The photos brought me to tears many times yesterday. I woke up to the news of the tornado and spent a few hours fielding texts from concerned friends and also making those same efforts to contact everyone at home that lives in the affected areas to make sure they were all okay. It was so upsetting and tilted my axis more and more as the day went on and as I saw more photos of what looked like horrendous damage and read news updates. Beloved music venues and locally owned businesses were destroyed. I saw one photo of a wooden pole driven through a trash can and couldn’t help but think that could’ve been a person or an animal. Everything was scattered everywhere. But I also kept seeing photos of people wearing gloves and toting chainsaws out in their communities, doing whatever they could to help clear the wreckage. I kept seeing photos of people preparing food and setting up stations to provide nourishment and water to those who needed it. I kept hearing that hotels and businesses were providing free or drastically rate-reduced lodging. That was the beautiful part. How to explain the awful part? We can’t. How do we wrap our heads around something being completely intact one moment and completely gone the next? It’s difficult to fathom even if you’re staring straight at it. And what is the lesson inside all of the chaos?
We hear for our entire lives how not to get attached to things. Money doesn’t make you happy. You can’t take it with you. We hear all of those sayings and platitudes, and those things are certainly true. But money also certainly does provide comforts that we hardly even notice until we have to do without them — electricity, water, food. The structures we live in, if we’re lucky enough to have them, provide a sense of at least physical safety and security. How do we deal with those things being ripped away by a natural disaster? Who do we blame? No one. These things just happen. They happen fast, and it’s traumatic — we sometimes seem to forget that we live in an awe-inspiring, gloriously beautiful yet incomprehensibly powerful place that cannot always be controlled to our liking, no matter what we build or how we build it. We go along with our progress until we’re reminded that we are not in control.
When reminded of that, all we can do, whatever tragedies befall us, is get out our chainsaws when daylight comes to start clearing a pathway, and let our best selves shine through the dark clouds that linger. Human beings are incredible, and we always find a way to recover.
Peace and love to y’all. Happy Wednesday.
Here are some links to ways to donate if you are so inclined:
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee: https://www.cfmt.org/story/middle-tennessee-emergency-response-fund/
American Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/local/tennessee/about-us/locations/nashville-area.html
United Way: https://www.unitedwaynashville.org/
Community Resourse Center: http://www.crcnashville.org/
Martha O’Bryan Center: http://www.marthaobryan.org/
Photo courtesy of Style Blueprint.