** This post was originally written several months ago. Please excuse the delay.
Tornadoes have always been part of my life due to the fact that I was essentially raised in tornado alley. On more than one occasion I’ve been in a bathtub with a mattress on top of me (and not because I was just drunk at a party). But I’ve never been holding onto loved ones as our home was sucked away around us. I’ve been lucky.
The story about my closest brush with a twister is proof that I’m lucky and that I’m often in my own little world. In the mid ’90’s I was playing Maggie in a production of Lend Me a Tenor. Rehearsals were held at night on the stage at the School for the Deaf in Little Rock. I’d been working all day, not watching TV, and was listening to a CD instead of the radio, so I hadn’t heard any of the weather warnings. The night was exceptionally dark and windy. There was some rain but no big deal in my opinion. Besides, I would never let a little weather keep me from rehearsal, so I drove to the school. No one was there.
It was while I was at the school that I realized how eerie everything felt. There were no other cars on the street and I could smell it. There’s just a different smell in the air when a really bad storm is coming. It was too dark to see rotation or the green tint to the sky that I’ve seen before a tornado formed, but something told me to get out. And I did. I went home the quickest route I could instead of weaving through the historic district like I sometimes did. As I drove the tornado sirens began to wail and within half an hour a tornado touched down very close to where I’d been. It destroyed parts of the Quapaw Quarters and even the Waffle House I’d drive by all the time.
I remember being so upset over the destruction of the historic properties. Several weeks later I was helping to paint scrims for The Arkansas Repertory Theatre in a building that was in the middle of the destruction. It was surreal to me. It was like a war zone littered with physical and emotional debris. But it was nothing compared to what happened in Moore.
While I’ve been lucky to escape tornadoes in my reality, they still make frequent appearances in my dreams. They are the stars of some of my worst anxiety dreams. I’m always in some situation where I’m trying to escape, sometimes alone and sometimes with my children. I’ll run in one direction only for another tornado to form in my path. I turn again to find another one. And this continues until I’m surrounded and desperately trying to find someway–anyway out of it. I’m actually really good with dream interpretation (studied it with inmate populations and everything), so it’s not hard to decipher this subconscious code. But it doesn’t make it any less horrifying when I’m in the middle of it.
I’m not sure if it was my dreams or just that tornado season was gearing-up, but a few weeks ago I had a thought concerning these devastating storms. I’ve been gutting my house of clutter–no, really gutting it. This is a very difficult task for somebody with ADD, depression, anxiety, and OCD-like tendencies working as their cleaning partners. It’s been a very slow, almost painful process for me because I put emotional value on objects and have an enormous fear of waste. The thought of throwing things away actually makes me sick. I have to be assured that my things will go to somebody else who ca use them or recycle them. If there’s ever a show called “Horders Jr.”, they’ll be calling on me.
Anyway, you get the idea of how horrible this adventure has been going for me, but then something changed. A few weeks ago I thought about tornadoes. What if one was coming straight for our home? What if I had only one box that I could fill? What would I take with me? Besides the living beings in my home, what would I HAVE to take with me? What would I put in my tornado box? I decided to look at this collection of things surrounding me–the things that cause me anxiety–and ask that question. Suddenly things didn’t seem so important.
Without pause I quickly named my items: my photo albums, my wedding ring, and my computer (or back-up file) because it contains thousands of photos and all of my wriitng. That’s it. Once my family was safe the only things that I would really want to salvage would fit into a Rubbermaid box–my “Tornado Box”.
When the disaster hit Moore, I thought of this but in a different way. Using my “tornado box” thought process had put the possession of my things into perspective. It had really narrowed down my definition of what’s important to me. When I saw teachers cradling their students, parents hysterical as they waited for news, and reporters crying in the field, I pondered on my tornado box. What if it wasn’t a physical box that held things? What if it was something not so tangible? What if this was a box that we stored the really important things in: ideas, teachings, morals–things that make up the soul. What would be the stuff that we wanted to hold onto to share with our loved ones and teach our children?
I imagine that when you’re covering a child with your body in a desperate attempt to keep them alive, things that seemed so important a few hours ago disintegrate in the storm. Standardized tests, clarinet lessons, sports, wearing designer labels, buying the “right” car, stewing over what wrong somebody has done you would be lifted and thrown away with all of the other debris of things that truly don’t matter.
What if we could all look at our lives and think about our “tornado box”? What would we put in it to share with the families we would do anything to hold onto? I would stop worrying about making it to a soccer practice on time, or the 10 pounds I gained, and I’d worry more about if I’d spent enough time just talking to my children. I’d stop worrying about the “c” my child made in the 4th grade and I’d worry more about if I’m teaching him to be kind. I’d stop fretting over projects I haven’t finished and make sure my children know how important it is to love their fellow-man.
What if we made our children our tornado boxes? What if we truly took the time to put the important things inside of them and forget about all the debris that clutters up our lives? What if?