A little over a week ago, a monster tornado ravaged nearby counties. Nearly every day this past week I’ve been crying as I read in the paper daily reports of the death and destruction left behind. My sorrow has been for one family in particular. Four children (two sets of brothers who were cousins) huddled in a closet when the tornado came to their home. A tree fell right where they hid for safety. Three of the boys were killed. The fourth one was a six-month-old baby. He died later at the hospital.
The tornado came within 35 miles of me and my family, but I didn’t even know about it until after it was over. I was in a live webcam training session for work, and my husband, who was in the nursery with Sam, had decided not to interrupt me unless reports changed to list our county in danger. I suppose I’m glad I wasn’t aware of it because tornadoes terrify me.
Last month Japan was slammed with an earthquake and tsunami. I watched in terrible awe videos of the awfulness of the tsunami wave swallowing the land, engulfing all with a deathly velocity. I watched in horror the vehicles clearly seen speeding along gray strips of pavement, hoping to reach safety. The annoyances of my day faded away as I was filled with gratitude for the simple blessings of health and safety. That feeling stayed with me for days. I was also filled with sorrow, not only for the many lives lost, but for those devastated souls who must keep living in a new ruined landscape with the fear of radiation. My heart felt heavy as the number of dead climbed higher. But I didn’t cry.
Is it that it was so far away? Is it that the chaos and destruction is so enormous that it is difficult to comprehend? Is it that I haven’t yet heard any personal stories from the survivors sharing their tragedy in their own voices? Is it a self-preservation technique for our psyches—sort of only allowing ourselves to feel so much pain? In other words, not taking on the crushing mutilating weight of all the world’s pain? I know that it is not that I am uncompassionate towards the suffering of others. I know that it is not that I value less the lives of Japanese people in some horrible racist twistedness. Why is it then that I did not cry last month, yet all this past week I’ve been crying over the deaths of four little boys?
Would I have been so affected a year or two ago, before I had my own little boy? I wonder. I keep envisioning myself in the scenario if a tornado comes. I’m on my knees in the bathtub, crouching and curled over. I have Sam in my arms underneath me. I am holding him tightly, trying to shield him. I’m trying to soothe him also, but my tension and tears and primal fear and the cold hardness of the tub thwart my efforts to calm him. I can hear the wind roaring in my head and all around me. I’m shaking with terror that seeps in to my core. There are two stories and an attic above us; does that provide an obstacle between us and the falling trees or does it add to the weight that may crash upon us? I don’t know. That is, if the tornado only throws trees and debris at me, and does not rip my home up wholly from the ground. Sam shrieks in distress; I hold him tightly in my arms underneath me. I would gladly take a tree across my back before I let it crush my baby, but I worry. I strongly suspect my small back is not enough to stop a falling tree in a tornado.
Like I said, tornadoes strike me with terror. We were spared this time, but my heart breaks for the family who lost all four of their little boys, even the tiny baby.