April 27, 2011 is a date that will not soon be forgotten here in Alabama.
The most devastating series of storms in the history of the state.
In all, there were nearly 350 deaths across the southeast from the outbreak.
Close to 250 of those were in Alabama alone.
There isn’t a single person I know who wasn’t either directly affected, or close to someone that was.
As we look back on that day, what can we salvage from the rubble that still remains in so many towns across the region?
Where is the hope is such destruction?
That night was terrifying.
I remember sitting in southeast Huntsville listening to the radio for reports and warnings.
I had heard some mention of Tuscaloosa, but that really wasn’t so much of a concern to me at the time.
I was much more concerned when the words “Geraldine” and “Highway 75” crossed the airwaves.
When you hear something bad is about to happen where your family is, and there is nothing you can do about it, your stomach has a way of navigating to the base of your throat pretty quickly.
When shoddy cell service denies you the ability to contact them, your heart manages to sink to the void left by your stomach.
It stayed that way for much of the night until I was able to reach my brother, and then finally my mom.
The next morning, I figure it is better to be with them than sitting around in Huntsville.
Upon arriving in Geraldine, I learn that, thankfully, everyone is unharmed despite one of my cousin’s homes being hit directly.
The next few days are spent in simplicity.
Limited power from a generator.
Countless hours sitting around being family.
Sharing meals and conversations.
Catching up on each others’ lives that the pace of normal life doesn’t allow for.
Surrounded by children who are more concerned with finding four-leaf clovers than the gravity of what has just happened.
In that regard, it was a beautiful week.
And it’s a shame that this is what it took to bring us all together like that.
Others across the southeast, however, were not so fortunate.
Once I was able to get my phone charged enough to reconnect with the outside world, I was heartbroken over the devastation across the state.
I saw photos and videos of what had happened in Tuscaloosa, a city close to my heart from my days as a student at the University.
Whole sections of town were leveled.
Businesses were gone.
Houses lay in ruins.
Dozens were dead, many more were missing.
I couldn’t help but think of the friendships that I wouldn’t have if not for that city.
The meals shared in restaurants that no longer stood.
The dozens of doughnuts picked up on Sunday mornings on my way to church.
The memories cultivated in a town that will never exist in quite the same way.
Over the next several weeks, I read article after article about the aftermath.
The stories of survival and sacrifice.
The stories of loss and mourning.
The stories of visiting politicians and celebrities.
Through all of that, the resilience of the city, of the state, still impresses me.
The way so many worked together to supply the needs of those who had lost everything.
For just a few weeks, we saw what a state not divided by university ties looks like.
We were forced into the realization of what really matters.
We stood arm in arm, side by side, pledging that we would not forget.
We would not forget that day.
We would not forget that we really do need each other.
We would not forget the things that truly matter.
Continue to pray for those who have lost someone close to them.
Continue to pray for those still struggling to rebuild their lives.
Not only in Tuscaloosa, or Alabama, but across the southeast.
Thanks to Sean Rivers for allowing me to post this video on my site.
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Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39)