Somewhere I have pictures.
During the summer of 2011, a group of young people and adults from our church went to Birmingham, Alabama to help clean up after the devastating tornado that had dredged a path of destruction a mile wide from Tuscaloosa through the Magic City. We drove up to the north side of town and parked in what once was a neighborhood. The tornado had happened weeks before; what was left looked nothing short of a war zone. Block after block had been leveled, leaving only fragments of foundations, pieces of houses, and piles of debris. The wreckage was overwhelming, but the hardest part for me was the capricious nature of the storm: one side of the street was destroyed and the other left virtually untouched. The image that sticks in my mind is the corner of a house with about half the front wall still standing. The window was open and a flimsy, sheer curtain was hanging from the inside out, as though the wind was still blowing. Through the window, I could see the fields of desolation. Though the rest of the house was gone, that little curtain had somehow hung on to that piece of wall.
When we lived in New England, the storms we worried about were blizzards. And we had some mean ones. When they hit, however, they hit us all. The whole area was buried and then we all dug out together after it was over. Tornadoes, however, play nasty tricks. I read this morning of a man who went across the street to the elementary school where his child was because he thought that was the safe place to be. The school was hit, and not his house. How do we make sense of a storm that acts like a sniper in a crowd, hitting some and missing others for no apparent reason?
The short answer is we don’t.
We can explain the science of how the storm developed, or why it did such damage, but there is no way to make it comprehensible. Though life certainly carries an expectation of loss, this kind of tragedy makes no more sense than the Sandy Hook shootings or the Boston Marathon bombing. The verse that keeps coming to my mind and heart is,
A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more. (Matt. 2:18, NRSV)
The grief we feel goes back as far as the stories go.
I’m sitting at the dining table in a friend’s house in Brentwood, Tennessee, in between weddings — one in Birmingham and the other in Chicago. The morning here is quiet and sunny; the day promises to be hot. For the first time in several days, the hours ahead of me are not scripted. I have time to write, which is not something I have been able to say lately with any regularity. The timing with the tornado is coincidental, and I find myself caught between wanting to say something and wondering what I have to say. The proliferation of immediate media (immediate?) means there are already any number of articles and opinions that have been posted across all sorts of platforms. Some seek to comfort, some to explain, some even to blame or chastise. My sense is all of us who are writing (and reading, perhaps) are trying to speak to the grief, and trying to understand what it means to be among those whose houses are still standing. As I’m writing, the weather forecasters are saying more severe storms are possible across an area which includes north and central Texas where some of my family are. Also, as I’m writing, I have found myself drawn to this old Rich Mullins song.
bound to come some trouble to your life
that ain’t nothing to be afraid of . . .
The truth is, on this sunny and unsettled morning, I have nothing to say that has not already been said, no story that has not already been told over and over since grief is as much a part of the human experience as getting up everyday. So I’ll step into that stream and say, again, that God is Love. Not God is in control. That doesn’t help because too much that happens in our world, whether natural or human, is random and damaging. God is Love and love is stronger than tornadoes and bombers, than grief and fear, than distance or even death.
It’s not a new word, but it’s what I’m holding on to today.