Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief
In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, I fully believe that you get to witness the goodness of humanity. For one shining minute—or maybe a day or two—we remember what it means to love thy neighbor.
But as those minutes turn to hours and days and, now, a week, something happens. Maybe the newness wears off. Maybe the power comes back on, and we forget that some people won’t be getting power back ever. Or maybe it just takes a week or so for the shock to wear off and for reality to set in.
I’m still an optimist, so I like to think it’s the last option.
But, a week after the March 19 tornadoes, I’ve learned one thing that no number of tornado documentaries, news coverage, or “my mom’s-friend’s-daughter and son-in-law growing up went through that” can prepare you for: the little things, both the good…and the bad.
One of the bad “little things” that no one seems to mention is the mold and mildew. After a few days, it starts growing on everything that got wet—and it smells. You feel like you’re walking through the inside of a petri dish, and, somewhere in the back of your head, you realize that no amount of Lysol wipes will fix it.
Another bad thing: you don’t get to pick and choose what got ruined and what didn’t. Yes, the silver lining of having your house destroyed is that you can “downsize” and “declutter,” but that’s not much of a consolation when your certificates from 13 years of school were ruined and the empty cereal bowl on your nightstand is fine. Sometimes your prized possessions are spared, and sometimes they’re not. You have no control and no say. You can only pick up the pieces you have left.
And then—this is the last bad thing, I promise—when the chainsaws stop running and the power comes back on and the trees get mostly cleared, you’re afraid you’ve been forgotten, as if the rest of the world will move on and you’ll be left to literally pick up your life by yourself. Maybe you’re “too much of a burden,” or maybe they’re “tired of cooking for you,” or maybe you “should be over it by now.” There are so many things that run through your head that no one warns you about.
But for every bad “little thing,” there’s some little spark of joy.
Like Diet Coke. I cannot tell you how good Diet Coke and Diet Mountain Dew taste to me right now. They taste like normalcy. A week of nothing but bottled water starts to make you feel like—well, water. When you’re in the middle of tornado clean up, every day is the same: wake up, go to the house, clean, sort, haul, throw out, drink water, eat Red Cross meals, come back to wherever home is now, eat food that a friend brings over, shower, sleep, and repeat indefinitely. It’s simultaneously monotonous and the most stressful thing ever. Diet Coke is something that I hope for now. Not just the drink, but the idea that, one day, it can be part of my routine and my new normal again.
And there are the workers. From the lady at the Baptist Church who remembered that my mom and I sometimes take to-go lunches back to my dad and brother, to the Salvation Army lady who delivered food to our door today and took the time to talk to us before she left, to the Talladega police officer on 2nd Avenue who asked me how my day was and told me he hoped it would get better, the seemingly insignificant kindness of strangers has been enough to make me cry this week. And it’s not the “your house is gone, so we’re going to feel sorry for you kindness”; it’s the “I care about you because you’re a human, and I’m a human, and I could easily be in your shoes” brand of kindness, the kind that makes you feel stronger instead of helpless.
But my favorite surprise has been finding the forgotten things: my mom’s wedding dress, still in its dress bag, in the very back of the closet of the room I’ve lived in for 15 years; her childhood piggy bank wedged in the corner of the bathroom closet; my grandmother’s blouses; Tubby the stuffed hippo; all of my Care Bears. Even if they go straight into a “donate” bag, these little things bring back a rush of emotions of an easier time, and I can only hope that they get a new life after all of this, too.
So, in addition to all the “big things”—the unbelievable support of my friends, church family, parents’ coworkers, and random volunteers—it’s the little things that have been getting me through every day: the Facebook messages and texts that say “I don’t know what to do, but come sit on my couch and cry awhile”; my best friend offering to play Taylor Swift in the car even though she hates her music but offering because she knows I love it; the gifs that still make me laugh—all the little things do add up.
To what, I’m not sure yet.
But it looks (overwhelming and exhausting and scary and hard and long and arduous and difficult and challenging and) promising.