Monday, May 5, 2014

The Long Road Home

Though our surprise trip to Illinois in February revolved around a sweet little boy's first birthday party, our visit lasted long enough for us to fit in more than just present unwrapping and cake eating. (Though I did spend A LOT of time eating that delicious cake.) In between celebrating Carter's birthday, playing countless games of Go Fish, watching the Olympics, swimming in the hotel pool, watching Frozen for the second time, and playing basketball and with hula hoops in the gym at Sara's school, Sara, my mom, Will, and I squeezed in a drive past their house the lot on which Sara's house used to stand.

On that Saturday afternoon, the town of Washington stood empty and eerily quiet. Most Texans would blame the shortage of people outside on the multiple inches of white stuff covering nearly everything in sight, but I knew better; it takes more than a foot of snow and temperatures in the 20's to keep Midwesterners indoors. (On a related note, Texas is rubbing off on me...I had absolutely no desire to spend any time outside while in Illinois in February.)

No, the emptiness and the silence - no sledders, no cross-country skiers, no Saturday shoppers or shovelers or snowman builders could be found - was because there simply were no people

Everyone had gone. 

Because when your house goes, you go too.

Three months after the tornado, I finally laid eyes on the aftermath of the one-sided fight between all-powerful Mother Nature and unsuspecting Washington, Illinois. I saw what little remained of Sara and Jeff's home - a damaged foundation and back deck - and I pictured them huddled in the basement, clinging to one another and their sweet babies and praying that the wind would take only things and not people. I pictured them walking up the stairs from the basement after the winds had quieted, and stepping not into the light but into a black hole of shock and awe followed by anger and sadness and pain and overwhelming loss.
Only the damaged foundation - and part of the back deck - remained.
A view of the back of the house three months prior to the tornado.
I stood there, in the middle of the street. I looked to my right, and saw nothing. No houses, no trees, no signs of life. I looked to my left and saw nothing. No houses, no trees, no signs of life.
To the right.
To the left.
My heart hurt in ways I can't describe.

Now, three months later and nearly six months after the tornado reared its ugly head, the snow has melted, the ground has thawed, and physical rebuilding can begin.*
The view from the street.
The view from the backyard.
The view from the left of the house.
The view from the right of the house.
* You might be wondering, as I was, why the houses surrounding Sara and Jeff's are further along in the rebuilding process. There are a couple of reasons… First, after the storm, many of Sara and Jeff's neighbors sold their homes to builders. When builders own houses, they make all of the building-related decisions themselves and can therefore move the process along much more quickly than when they have to communicate with homeowners about every little detail. Second, before they could start rebuilding, Sara and Jeff had to first resolve a structural issue with their foundation and then come to an agreement with the insurance company on what the house was worth. Thankfully, both the foundation issues and the insurance issues are resolved, the architectural plans are finished, and framing will begin very soon.

I bring all this tornado business up again for two primary reasons. First, a number of my friends and acquaintances have recently asked me about Sara and Jeff (y'all are so kind - thank you!), which makes me think that others who followed along via Chasing Roots at the beginning of Sara and Jeff's journey might appreciate an update.

You can read Sara and Jeff's story from the beginning by clicking here.

Second, last week a number of massive tornadoes caused horrific damage (16 people lost their lives) across Arkansas, Missippippi, and the US Southeast. Seeing the photos and hearing the stories of both triumph and despair brought me right back to where I stood and what I felt when those on the television screen weren't strangers, but my family.

Today these folks are exactly where Sara and Jeff were six months ago. They kneel in what remains of their living rooms, feeling shocked, angry, and sad. They hurt. They grieve. They have to - at least temporarily - leave their homes behind while they figure out what to do and how to begin again.

Sara and Jeff got through the worst of it with help from the family members, friends, and complete strangers - all of you fall into one of those categories - who showed up when the going was toughest and carried a bit of the burden on their shoulders. And I want those affected by the recent tornadoes to know that they too will get through the worst of it, with help from the family members and friends and complete strangers who will show up when the going is toughest.**

The road Sara and Jeff have traveled since that cold, November morning has been rocky, and it continues to stretch out in front of them, much farther than their eyes can see. The road is long, but they know that if they stay the course, it will eventually lead them home.

**If you would like to help the victims of last week's tornadoes, you can do so by making a donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,200 Red Cross trained relief workers and 60 Emergency Response Vehicles are providing shelter, food (70,000+ meals and snacks), relief supplies (11,000+ clean-up kits, rakes, shovels, mops, and trash bags), health services, mental health services, and emotional support to victims across 13 states. Click here to learn more.

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