After the Storm

Storm damage

Storm Damaged Tree Photo by Patti Tokar. All rights reserved.

A storm tore through the area last week.  The storm warning alarm on the local tv channel  was sounding a new severe weather alert warning signal every few moments.   ‘Rain, hail, high winds, tornado watch,’ it flashed.  The tv screen displayed a radar of deep green with a large center of angry red that was crawling fast toward us.   I hurried to take in the outdoor equipment, close and lock the windows, and call my son to come straight home from his church youth group.  As it turned out, I didn’t need to call … the church had received the same warning and was sending all the kids home already.

Within moments after my son arrived home, the warnings changed.  Tornado warning! Tornado warning! (For those outside of tornado country, a tornado watch means stay alert because the storm conditions could produce a tornado.  We pay attention, but don’t do too much with a watch.  A tornado warning means either a tornado or a funnel cloud has been reported.  A warning creates immediate excitement.)   Suspected funnel cloud sightings and potential circular storm rotation began showing up a red swirls on the screen.  First one, two, then dozens of red swirls … all over the screen and headed straight for our area.   It was time to head for the basement.

I called my oldest son, Sam, as I was going down the steps, just to be sure he knew about the tornado warning.  He did.  “We were in Walmart and they made us get in the middle of the store, ”  his girlfriend told me.

Later that night, I could see that the  strong winds had wrecked havoc with our trees.  Huge branches dangled from the trees and there were mounds of leaves and tree limbs on the ground.  In the early daylight of the next morning, I discovered that all the upper doors of the loft in the barn were blown out – one was on the ground in shattered pieces.  The others were dangling and askew.

One of the trees that had taken severe damage, yet the two bird feeders on it were still peacefully hanging and full of  birdseed.   Several birds were eating from the feeder;  just another day for them.

The house was untouched.  Nothing. It was as though God put an invisible shield around it.  My sons were safe, too.  I was and am deeply grateful.

A lot of the people in the county started cleaning up debris at the first light of day.  I did not.  I was overwhelmed.  I did not even know where to start.  Most of the fallen tree branches were far too large and heavy for me to even move, let alone lift them.   I walked around the yard and then went to the office in a daze.  The trees would have to wait. I don’t know, maybe I expected them to be magically gone when I came home.   I admit that I brushed away a few tears that night before I straightened myself up, changed into my old clothes, and got started with the cleanup.

A small power saw, the Suburban and some rope became our tools of the day.  My son was pleased to discover that he could pull fairly large limbs out of the way on his own.  My self-confidence glowed a little more with every saw cut.

Today, a week later,  I  finished getting all the limbs cleared away.  Funny how even an overwhelming task does get finished if you just get started and work on it every day, bit by bit.  (Or limb by limb, in this case.)  That is a lesson I will remember.   I’ve heard it before but this time I really experienced it.  The lesson is mine.

There were also hundreds of smaller sticks and branches to pick up from the yard.   It was while I was picking up these sticks that I began to realize the spiritual lesson in the storm’s aftermath.

The first and obvious lesson was for gratitude that my home was left untouched from the storm.  The limbs on the ground seemed much less menacing from that perspective.  I even began to wonder if the trees might have shielded my home and given up a few branches in the process.

I felt the gratitude of having relatively little storm clean up compared to what many families have had to face.

Then a deeper thought appeared.  I wondered how much empathy I had really had when I read about families who had suffered true storm damage.  Hurricane Katrina …  wildfires …  tornadoes that ripped the roofs off their homes.   Certainly, I had felt sorry about their suffering.

I began to understand the difference between feeling sorry about something that had happened to someone and feeling real empathy for them.  Feeling sorry keeps the other person and their distress separate from you.  Feeling empathy awakens the connection between you.  There are threads of a  shared experience, a deep understanding about whatever is causing the distress or pain.

I thought further about how sometimes we judge another person – perhaps we think they are not reacting appropriately to something that has happened to them.  But who are we to judge?  Have we experienced what they are going through?  And if we have, shouldn’t we approach with empathy and understanding rather than any kind of thoughts about how they should be responding?    We should simply observe, help if it is appropriate, allow them to heal at their own pace, and let them know that we are there for them without judgment.

As I picked up sticks, I noticed that many of them were good sized and straight.  Excellent!  Before the storm, I had planned to go to Menards to buy stakes and materials to make pea and tomato plant supports.   My yard was full of sturdy, straight stakes.  The storm had given me gifts.  It made picking up the sticks a much more pleasant process.

Tonight I have a sense of completion.  The yard is cleared, the tomatoes are staked and the peas have lovely string climbers.  I have a little more self-confidence, a little more empathy, a spiritual lesson, and a lot more gratitude.  Not bad for one storm.

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  4. Thoughts on a Sunday Morning - Life Storms Says:

    […] The storms nature has brought to my world – my Indiana farmhouse – have thankfully not been as intense or as damaging as they potentially could have been.  A couple of years ago, intense winds, possibly a small tornado, passed by the house, wrecking havoc with the barn doors and large tree limbs.  I made it through that, too, and felt I learned a valuable lesson from it.  (Blog post – After the Storm) […]

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