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The wild wind

April 29, 2011

I did not get up early to watch coverage of the royal wedding. I wish them well, but I really don’t give a rat’s ass about two young, wealthy people getting married on another continent. I find the whole thing fairly tedious. Also, I stayed up too late reading the facebook page where people are posting pictures of photos and other things they’ve found after the terrible tornadoes in the southeast [Note: the above link is actually to a boing boing page about it so even those of you who eschew the book of faces can read about it. There’s a link there to take you to the FB site if you have an account.]. A friend sent me the link and I couldn’t look away. So much ephemera. So many things that are meaningful only to the owners. Photos of new babies and senior proms. Restaurant receipts. A check saved for fifty years. Finger paintings made by small children. A home-made valentine. It made the unfathomable damage a little more fathomable and utterly heartbreaking. I stopped reading when I got to the post with a picture of a 4-year-old girl who went missing in the storm, her mother in a coma in the hospital.

There were two things that made the reading absolutely riveting to me. One is that some of the photos were identified and will be restored and returned. The other is that many of the photos traveled well over 100 miles in the storm. The first part gives some sense of resolution to the situation. It’s a false sense. Hundreds died. Hundreds are without homes. Hundreds more have no power or water. My friend B, who teaches at a middle school in Georgia not far from the Tennessee border said his school has been closed down for two weeks. One of his students was killed. Another school in town is gone. Just gone. But any sense of good coming out of this story is something to hold onto. The second part is just amazing. Tornadoes are amazing.

There is definitely something attractive about this kind of damage, destruction and pain. We all feel it, although it makes most of us uncomfortable. But part of us likes a disaster. Maybe it’s a little bit about feeling lucky that it’s not us. Maybe it’s a little bit about feeling guilty that it’s not us. But I like to think that it’s about remembering our humanity, remembering that we don’t have forever, that sometimes being alive is more important than having a lot of stuff. And maybe we can help somehow. If there’s one advantage we have as a species, it’s the ability to shoulder each other’s burdens once in a while.

But I think tornadoes are particularly horrifying on a metaphoric level as well. It’s tornadoes that terrify AJ, not any of the other million and one disasters that he has a much better chance of encountering in his life time. He has always been terrified by them, even though he’s never been close to one. They come from no where, disappear in a matter of seconds or minutes, but change everything. Nothing exemplifies “Act of God” better than a tornado. And then there’s the weird myth-like possibility of being picked up and carried through the air and dropped somewhere hundreds of miles away, like all of the pieces of paper I’ve been looking at. AJ’s never known that kind of chaos. I hope he never will. But he wonders about it. We all do.

It bothers me that I’m much more interested in tuning in to the reportage of unfortunate victims than to the celebration of a joyful day. I could justify it in a million ways, but it’s really because the tornadoes are the better story. It’s a book I can’t put down, and it’s not because I have a burning need to do something about it. That’s a rationalization I tack on afterwards. It feels wrong. Is this a fundamental amorality attendant with a writerly way of seeing the world? Maybe. In reality, I don’t think celebration is less important than mourning. If anything, I think the opposite is true, although certainly both are important.

Okay, that’s enough of a ramble to force you to slog through. If you want to help the victims of the tornadoes, you can donate at the Red Cross website. But I’m probably not donating there myself. I tend to make my donations a little closer to home. Because for every colossal disaster that makes the news, there are a thousand nearly invisible disasters in your own hometown.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    April 29, 2011 10:16 am

    I haven’t been able to read much about either thing. I get overwhelmed quickly by devestation and disaster. And I used to *work* for the Red Cross. Maybe that’s why. Dusty was filled with useful knowledge about tornados but did mention a story about a baby who’d been lifted by a tornado and placed on the ground miles away without a scratch. Which, sounds highly unlikely to me. Highly unlikely. It was a couple of days of worry but we were lucky to live in the very small swath between two very angry-looking storm cells. There but for the grace of…luck…go we.

  2. April 29, 2011 12:45 pm

    Tivo’d the wedding- I’m just a sap.

    Atlanta was spared anything but a mild thunderstorm, but there isn’t a soul I’ve spoken to who doesn’t know someone who was affected by it.

  3. April 29, 2011 2:11 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts on this. From my perspective, it’s not so much about valuing mourning over celebration. In today’s comparison, it’s about being touched by the most basic human needs of the tornado victims, and repelled by the pageant of human greed that was on display at the royal wedding (and all the press coverage of same). I went on an unvarnished rant today on my own blog about all this Royal Wedding crap.

    I grew up in tornado alley. It seemed like I spent a full 1/4 of my youth in the southwest corner of my family’s house. Luckily, that was the kitchen. Unluckily, it was above ground. Luckily, we never got hit by a tornado, but I’ve known several people whose homes have been leveled. I don’t know anyone who died, though, so I guess that’s another lucky thing.

    This was a lovely post. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  4. May 1, 2011 5:17 pm

    Getting outta Dodge seemed like the best plan re: the Royal Wedding. Didn’t know the whole beatification thing was to take place in Rome these past few days when we booked our getaway a few months ago, but we were not exactly travelling in the same circles as half of Poland and an enormous selection of other Cat’lics so aside from our hike up the dome of St. Peter’s we managed to keep away from that too!

    Tried like heck to avoid the papers in the Rome and Heathrow BA lounges on the way back home this afternoon but glimpsed a few bits in a paper lying open near the cappuchino maker at LHR. A tailor in China has already copied The Dress and the lace was Royal School of Needlework (where I studied for a year) made. This whole dog and pony show has dominated the news here for weeks and weeks. Syria you say? What’s that about a birth certificate? Tornado? We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

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