Thursday, June 2, 2011

Eyes Opened Wide

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was 18, it never occurred to me I'd be old. That some day my skin might become mottled with tiny moles or that I'd have white hairs on my chin.

I drove in snow storms without fear, did worm turns with loose abandon as I skied down a steep mountain, and never gave much thought to the fragility of life.

Cut to present day. Remember the movie Apollo 13, when everyone waited over three minutes for that small space capsule to make it through the fiery re-entry into the earth's atmosphere? I liken it to a few weeks ago and the twenty minutes I sat with anxious abandon while a tornado engulfed Tuscaloosa, Alabama - my youngest son in its path.

My son had called a few moments before, to tell me a tornado was five minutes away from his university. Hide. That was all that went through my mind while I told him to get to a stairwell. I don't believe he thought like me as the excitement in his voice didn't reflect fear. The line went dead, the ugly bleat of an endless busy signal replacing his voice as I tried to get him back.

A quick turn to the Weather Channel provided a radar view of the hook of the storm, the announcers saying in quiet voices that the immense, powerful storm was at that moment overtaking the city of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama. They added, we can only pray for these people. Silence.

I prayed.

Twenty minutes later, my phone rang. Youngest son saying it took him a while to get through. That he saw the tornado out his window. "You saw it?" I cried. "You weren't hiding?"

"You have a chance to see that? Wouldn't you?" he said.

No, I thought. Not at my age. I would have my head between my legs, kissing my ass goodbye.

There lies the power of youth verses the knowledge (or cynicism) of age. Settled by the sound of his voice, I used my mother voice to instruct him not to go outside, that first reports indicated total disaster. Danger.

"Okay, mom."

Mothers of three sons know what that means. And in my youth, I would have done the same. To take that walk and see the downed trees, the broken windows. That's what my son saw before he walked over the next hill and saw this.

Just like that, the excitement of the storm replaced with the aimless wandering of those lost and still alive amid the devastation. With eyes wide open, the endless scenes now slammed into his mind like the tornado that invaded in his very own backyard.

Students able to get home were told to do so. Two nights later when my son came through the garage door after a twelve hour drive, I saw a youthful spirit dulled by the reality of the previous 48 hours. The invincibility of youth now tinged with vulnerability. The buzz of the rightafter muddied by the lack of power, food, water and lost faces.

He stared at the TV and computer screens that repeated the videos of the storm and its aftermath he'd not been privy to before. This bothered him even more. That even though he had been present, just two blocks from the fringe of the massive destruction, the "seeing" on the screen wrought an even wider opening of his eyes.

"Tell me what you're thinking," I asked a few days later.

"It won't be fixed by the time I graduate," he said.

No, some of it will never be fixed. And I think it might take some time for his thoughts to collect and settle.

There are many in Tuscaloosa, Joplin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and throughout the US that are not as fortunate to have their son home safely. As the rebuilding, resettling, and the search for a new norm begins, please remember those that will never be fixed completely.



  1. What an incredibly moving, emotive and powerfully written post! To have heard your first person version of this tragedy and the devastating consequences, for you to have been the Mother of a son who was right there, is incredible. I am so glad your son was safely delivered home to you and I feel for the Mothers of those sons and daughters who did not make it through that storm. It brings the reality of it all so much closer by 'knowing' someone who was affected personally.

    Big hugs to you and yours!
    Des xoxo

  2. Oh Julie, I feel for you, for the stress and worry of those few moments of not knowing. The experience will certainly shape your son's life...after the 9/11 attacks, my grandson entered a fire fighting academy...the young are fearless aren't they. Glad for the safety of your son.

  3. Oh I can only imagine how terrified you felt knowing what was coming and hearing that line go dead. There's such a hard lesson to learn about vulnerability and mortality. I'm so glad for you that your boy was ok.

  4. So glad your boy is all right, Julie. A very sobering experience for him, and one that might well cause him to rethink his invulnerability.

  5. Awesome delivery of a picture of your son before and after a tragedy. So glad he scraped through.

    I remember the calls after my son had a couple of near-death experiences..."I'm OK now, Mom,... just want to tell you what happened..." And I would thank him for sparing me...

    Now I wait for the call that won't...

  6. A very insightful composition. I can imagine it took you some time to start breathing again enough to compose a post.

    I know some of what you felt. A couple weeks ago I was texting with our daughter as she, her husband, and dogs huddled in their bathtub as multiple tornadoes went through the Dallas, TX area. I don't think I breathed for about 5 hours that night.

    I guess we both are thankful our children are safe. I can't imagine how tragic it is for those tornado survivors whose lives have been changed forever. Thanks for the links.

  7. I didn't know your son was so close to the disaster area as I sat and watched that horrible day unfold on TV. (I'm glad I didn't know) My heart ached for everyone, yet I was so proud of how the community came together to help each other. The weather has been so weird, these storms are like assassinators killing and damaging anyone and everything in its path. So happy to know your son is okay, a part of his youth was lost that day, am praying he has a good summer making happyier memories ..:-)hugs

  8. Very true, Julie. I'm so glad that he's back home now.

  9. much destruction. I'm happy that your son arrived home safe and sound. It will take him quite some time to process all that he witnessed. Bless him.

    Thank you for those links. Those poor people need all the help they can get.

  10. glad he is safe...those must have been stressful minutes ....nature is so powerful and our destinies can be changed so easily....

  11. That's a heart-in-throat post if ever I read one. No wonder you didn't know where to begin for awhile. Thank heavens he's safe.

  12. I was moved to tears as I read this. My nephew lives there, and he was unharmed, as well.

    Thank God he is safe, and I too have been praying for all of cities that have experienced damage, and the families who have lost loved ones, and homes.

    You wrote a beautiful, moving post... one of the best I've read in some time.

    Thank you for sharing this personal moment in time with us.

    God bless you.

  13. I, too, was brought to tears reading this, even though we had already talked about it! I've experienced mom fear three times: my daughter was at the Olympics in Atlanta when the bombs went off, she and her husband were in a restaurant when a tornado hit Atlanta a few years ago, and last month when the tornado hit here in Ringgold. There's no fear like it, the primal strength of it.

    So glad your boy escaped physical harm. I'm sure that in some way this experience will shape his life journey, if only in that he now knows how fragile that journey is. I also know that you will be holding him a little tighter and a litle longer whenver he leaves the house from this point on, especially when he returns to school!

    I can't imagine how long it will take Tuscaloosa to recover. In Ringgold, they are still in the clearing trees and depris stage, and it seems to be a never-ending task. Very little re-building has begun, which makes it a little surreal to drive thru town. The business district that was flattened is still just as we saw it that first week. So much work to be done ...

  14. Lord how mercy, I would have freaked totally out! It is a growing experience that does not leave you that I know. I survived the super outbreak in 74'.

    Thank heavens he returned home to you. My prayers have included all that have suffered of late.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  15. A fascinating story and so interesting - we try to protect our children as much as we can but when they leave they are on their own. He has learned an important lesson in such a very hard way. Lots of hugs are called for I would think.

  16. I'm so glad your son is safe. I have to admit that I was never one to take storms seriously. I always thought "if it's coming to get me, it will get me". Now that I have a child of my own I've completely changed. I'm glued to the news or have the whole family locked in the bathroom, especially after seeing all the major devestation as of late. Thank you for this post.

  17. This really was an unbelievably well-written post. I am so very happy that your son is safe. My heart breaks for all those affected.

  18. This is freaky because years ago when a tornado came through the University of Maryland campus and ended up killing two girls in a car, my son, who lived on that campus, had called and did exactly the same thing. Stood in front of his patio window and watched the storm. I was terrified when he called back later and told me what he had done!

  19. Living where I do, we have quite a few of these... the ones that don't 'affect' us don't seem as real or as dangerous as the ones that we experience first hand.

    Of course, once one is experienced first hand, then all of that changes. One isn't so anxious to see how close we can get to one, or watch it destroy a structure...

    I am so glad your son made it home to you safe and sound.


  20. Thank God he's safe! And a little more grown up. We could do with more grown up young men in this world.

  21. I have to admit, I would have stayed to see the tornado, too. My problem is that, after seeing it, I never would have made it to safety - arthritis and bad feet, you know.

    This post has everything - humor, sadness, empathy, thrill, learning, horror, anticipation. I was on a roller coaster through the whole thing...

    My relatives are in Alabama, too - Eclectic, Montgomery, Birmingham, and several other small towns. Lives were lost, but all my folks are okay. Prayers to those who were less fortunate...

  22. Oh, by the way...I may very well be hiring out in a couple of years. I'd like to do party planning part-time after I retire from HELL. (Otherwise known as the post office!) Just drop me a line, when and if!

  23. Absolutely inspirational!
    Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.

  24. Oh my! Thank goodness your son is OK. What a tough way to learn the fragility of life. I hope he is able to assimilate this information and move on.

  25. I cannot tell you how happy I am that your son was able to walk through that door. I think our children are growing up faster now-a-days. I saw a different look last weekend in some of the new high school graduates. They are not as care-free. Most have to work to afford college and they worry about their parents. I guess natural disasters would follow suit. Him saying it wouldn't be fixed by the time he graduates...

    Wonderful post.

  26. Wonderful post! Yes..much can't and won't be fixed. These disasters are shaking all of us up!
    Congrats on your POTW

  27. My arms were completely popping with goosebumps as I read this. Oh, your worry and horror--and then that moment when you see your son has grown up in a whole new way: through witnessing devastation. What a tough, but necessary, life lesson.

    Thank you for this.

  28. Could simply not imagine walking over a hill in my backyard and having the sight of total devastation smacking me in the face. Would simply crumple to my knees and ask why.... why.

    I'm sincerely happy that your son was spared.

    Congratulations on this powerful POTW.


  29. Powerful and written amazingly well. Congrats on a well deserved POTW.

  30. congrats on your POTW. this was really well-written and full of emotion.

  31. Beautiful and touching post. Congrats on your POTW.

  32. I too would have been watching for it. A few years back I am in a tent and sirens all going from surrounding towns and everyone crowded in the bathrooms.I sat it out only to have my tent destroyed, and never got the picture i wanted.A town 12 miles away was flattened.

  33. Terrible story, beautifully told, I waited those anxious minutes with you. And yes, I too would have watched, then; now like you I would have found a corner, not necessarily between my legs.


  34. oh that our children would never know these things, never live them..
    and that we could assure their health and safety always.

    so so glad he is okay.

    we had just passed through Springfield Mass when last weeks tornado hit, having dropped of a daughter near Boston ...

    oh the worry .

  35. Oh my goodness, what a terrifying time - my heart goes out to all of those caught up in this disaster. I can only imagine the devastion wreaked upon the lives of those it has touched (flattened). Reading your account has really brought it home, your incisive account speaks volumes. I felt your relief and gratitiude to have your son delived safely back to you.

  36. What an amazing and powerful story, Julie. Thank you for giving these disasters a personal face. I'm so glad your son is okay, and a little sad that his youthful exuberance has been dimmed a bit.

  37. You deserve a medal for raising three boy!

  38. Stunned in silence... almost speechless. One word comes to mind: pray. Praying for those people - so thankful your son is with you. Congrats on the POTW.

  39. I was holding my breath as I read this. Very grateful that your son is OK.

  40. Insightful, Julie!
    Thanks for sharing, I'm so relieved that your son was fine.

  41. Julie- I cannot imagine the fear and worry you felt as that line went dead. My son is 14 and I worry about him taking his bike out on his own. But children, young and old, need to experience the world on their own terms,and all their parents can do is pray they will be safe, and make the right decisions.

    Thank God your son lived through this (such a tragedy so many lives were lost) to talk about it, and to see how the devastation has affected others, how fragile life is. Should anything remotely close to this ever happen again (Lord willing it won't), I'll bet he heads for the stairwell and tucks his head between his knees--and helps others do the same.
    Beautifully written, Julie. Congratulations on your POTW post from Hilary. :)

  42. I was glad he got through the storm, and home, safely. You are much calmer (on the page at least) than I would have been.
    Powerful stuff, Julie. Thank you.

    (and my sincere apologies for getting here so late; am beyond behind, also erratic)


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