One week after a history-making outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornados wreaked havoc throughout the south, the lights finally came on yesterday for most of the northern counties of Alabama. The cable networks, including the Weather Channel, focused (albeit deservedly) on Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, so in more ways than one North Alabama was left in the dark. Officials are still assessing damage, and the death toll count for our state finally appears to be slowing (236, but with scores still listed as missing). Total loss of life across the south is at least 330.
My family was fortunate. Whereas there is devastation in abundance within a mile or two in any direction, we fared pretty well. While many had their lives and homes uprooted with every toppled tree, we only had to deal with the relative inconvenience of a 6+ day power outage. While we had to navigate roads strewn with snapped power lines, dodging these and other obstacles while in search of supplies, others are picking over piles of rubble in search of their memories. We try to do our part, helping neighbors as we can, patching a roof to prevent further water damage (that was fun), checking in on family and cleaning up debris. But at the end of the day, you come home to lanterns, cold water showers and peanut-butter sandwiches. And we never were so thankful for the simple blessings.
It was surreal. The night sky was never so full of stars. And we adjusted, more so as the days wore on. We slept well, being governed not by clocks and alarms, but by the rising and setting sun. Our connection to the outside world was through a radio whose batteries lasted far longer than we expected. We heard about OBL, but honestly that news felt anti-climactic and out of place. It's a different world in the dark, I guess. There was a certain relief in being detached from the outside world. We were surviving just fine, and managed to keep the perspective of just how fortunate we were.
You'd think that we would be overjoyed when the lights came back on, and we were. It meant hot showers, and a return to "normalcy." Yet I found the experience once again, surreal. We had connected with something, during our days in the dark. Was it simplicity? Was it real community, the kind that doesn't involve monitors and networks and electrons? I don't know. But whatever that something was, I fear that it will be lost as our lives return to what they were before the storms. I know it seems heedless and unappreciative given the suffering around us, but I think I will miss some of what we found this past week. The simplicity, the community, the surviving. We truly live very privileged lives, full of ease and convenience. For a few days, maybe we got a taste of what we're actually missing, even to our detriment.
But enough navel gazing. There are those still in real need, suffering real loss, and work to be done to help. May their recovery come speedily.