A pine smell and the odor of fresh tilled earth is in the wind. They do not tell you this is what destruction smells like. When a tornado comes through and rends trees to kindling and pulls the grass from the ground better than any plow, the earth responds with the fresh smell of hard work.
I write this to you five days after a tornado ripped through my town, coming within six blocks from where I am sitting, where I take comfort and write and laugh. That swirling cloud of debris also came within a hundred feet or so of where I work, where I earn my living helping to ensure the history of this area. In short, destruction came into my purview, into my life. This is not the first time this has happened and hopefully will be far from the next time.
I am lucky. I still have a home to come back to, I still have a job that was untouched. My office and my materials, from the document cases I construct walls with to block my coworkers in their cubicles to that damn electric pencil sharpener that could be used to force drug lords out from deep within fortified compounds with its shrill hellish noise, everything is untouched.
Others not so much. Businesses stand twisted and empty, devoid of life because they were struggling to begin with and will now never reopen. People take shifts sleeping in houses with roofs gouged by falling trees to keep their property safe from looters. Others are on cots and in makeshift dormitories in churches and hotels across town.
Comparatively, an F4 tornado in the middle of a densely populated area should have caused much, much more damage and loss of life than it did. I do not subscribe to the notion that supernatural forces helped this matter (if that were true then our football team would be an unstoppable force filled with saintly knights of old), but if that is how you see things I will not take that comfort from you.
I am terrified of tornadoes. They come in with an average of 13 minutes of warning and can destroy anything or nothing or just a few random things. Walking around campus, our rose garden looks untouched while 20 feet away a metal lamp post is broken in half. A large building stands with virtually all of its glass intact, while another is caved in. At least hurricanes give you a chance to run and a wall of water nothing can dodge. Hurricanes do not make you ask why.
From this, though, a few bright things have shone. I have found that my main mode of dealing is laughter. If you can see things in the light of humor, you can push back the darkness just a little further and do a little more to help. If there is anything this community does best, it is helping with a good spirit.
If you looked at the tornado affected area now, just five days later, you would think a massive construction project was going on, not a relief effort. Within days, the debris was cleared, power was restored with new poles and lines, and larger projects are on their way. People are still sleeping in broken houses to protect their things, businesses will stand empty that will never open, but hope is here. Hope that our community will hold together and help those less fortunate. Hope that we will pick up the broken rather than sweep them away.
I am not entirely positive about what exact relief efforts are underway, but you can always check with the American Red Cross of Mississippi for guidance if you wish to help. I have heard several people say things in the last week about “don’t worry about praying, just help,” but sometimes all you can do is think. I think there is power in that, in knowing that we are not all alone. So if you want to call it prayer and talk to a man in the sky about how tornados affect people, go right ahead. I simply find it a comfort knowing that this world, our species, has the capacity to empathize with one another and help and that above all things we have always increased our capacity to communicate with each other.
Okay, I've gone on too long without saying something silly, so I am going to shut up now. I’m sure you've watched this video, but here it is again! If he’d turned left near the end, he’d have been right near my apartment!