So I just got back the journal I share with my sweet friend Lydia! We swap this journal around and I am proud to say it is almost 3 years old! Wow, just realized that. When we started it, I was living in Colorado Springs for my final semester of school and she was in Tuscaloosa. Then she was in Ireland and I was in Nashville. Now she's literally all over the place... about to be in North Carolina, and I'm in Kentucky about to be in California.
This journal has been through a lot with us. She has turned in to a friend of sorts as she has watched us grow up a bit, change a lot, and maybe even become young adults...? Eh, that's a stretch.
So here's an entry I wrote on August 3rd (almost a year ago!) at 12:12 AM. It's about the aftermath of the tornado(s) that hit Alabama. I thought I would share since I don't think I wrote about the effects of the tornado when it actually happened. I think it just felt too close to home, honestly, and I didn't know where to start. But now that time has passed I feel good about sharing.
Ok here goes... (Thanks for listening with your eyes.)
... Girl I totally connect to your confusion and pain and frustration during the post-tornado chaos in T-town. Even being in Nashville was hard. I can't imagine the weight you felt in your heart being so far away. Your prayers have not gone unheard. I can assure of that, my friend.
One trap that I have tried to avoid with every ounce of energy I own is distancing myself from the reality of Tuscaloosa now. It's a different world there now. And it's so easy to just fall back in to my seemingly perfect little Nashville routine and forget about the destruction, the lost lives, the injured souls... to just put that all away like a used-to-be Best Seller now collecting dust in the corner of an old book shelf. Thankfully, I live close enough to travel back fairly often and check up on things... hear names, hear stories.
I have been back three times since the tornado hit, one of them being last weekend with a group of students from the high school I work at. These kids worked for three days in the blistering heat of Alberta City without complaint... well, maybe just a little, but anyone could read their eyes and see that they were committed- committed to acting, to listening, to responding. I was truly inspired by their persistent leadership, unique and creative ideas, and passion for shedding some light into the dark struggles our Alberta neighbors have experienced.
I watched a student who I thought I had all figured out as insincere and insensitive break down in tears as she shared with the group of nearly 20 of her closest peers and adults about a lady she had met in Alberta that day. Let me try and paint the picture...
"OH THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!" exclaimed the elderly woman, looking at this group of young students as her rescue from the sinking Titanic. Her skin seemed as rough as a reptile; her eyelids getting heavier by the second.
All of the sudden, she leaped up from the brick steps that used to lead to her house of nearly 45 years, and ran as fast as she possibly could to hug the neck of whoever she got to first. The group of teenagers seemed exhausted, yet eager, afraid, yet oddly comfortable.
The old woman with her hunch-back grace and short stature hugged Lanise so tight you would'a thought the two were long-life pals. From this moment on, the woman and the girl were inseparable as shared stories and tears and praise fell so free, like the autumn leaves that used to dance across the sky of Alberta. But now the streets lay bare, exposed, more vulnerable than they ever thought possible.
"This was my house..." said the woman pointing to the pile of rubble beyond the steps she had just abandoned. Suddenly, each word became sacred as they flowed effortlessly into the thick Alabama air. The woman's voice would break at parts as the memories unfolded and Lanise held her tight, carrying her through with all the strength her 17-year old self could allow, hoping it would somehow transfer into the heart of this kind soul. Lanise knew how much this meant to the woman to share her story, and in an odd way, Lanise felt as though she was stepping into this woman's experience with her, like she had been there all along.
"Over there is where we found my mother," the woman explained as she pointed to what used to be the last house in their little culdesac in the heart of Alberta. The woman paused for a long while, her silence screaming.
"You see, Lanise, in front of that house there was a tall, beautiful tree, a tree I grew up playing on as a little girl.... my mother's body was found in its branches... all tangled up in the middle. She didn't make it."
Lanise's heart dropped. She hugged her new friend, not knowing what else to do or say in that moment, as they stood motionless in front of that tree for what seemed like hours.
Meanwhile, the guys in the group were helping the woman's husband search for his belongings in the pile of rubble. A pair of glasses, and old American flag, his Purple Heart medal from Vietnam. Since the couple was understandably preoccupied with a death in the family, they had not gotten the chance to sort through their things after the tornado in attempt to find their most precious keepsakes like wedding pictures and war medals. So here they were the first day on the job and along came these strangers from Nashville to help, to listen, to care. Perhaps they were angels undercover, blessing the troubled couple with fresh ears to receive and hands to give. Perhaps...
As the van pulled away and Lanise led the group in extended goodbyes out the window and into the streets, their voices echoing behiind them, they noticed the former Vietnam soldier do something so peculiar, they were astonished. The man pulled his lawnmower off the back of his truck and attempted to mow his used-to-be lawn. Like it was any old normal summer day, they watched the man fight for routine and regularity in his daily life like he was on the battlefield fighting for independence and freedom. He fought with the same intensity, the same passion.
And in that moment Lanise knew life must go on.