I grew up in your typical small town America, or as a Californian once body referred to as, "the butt crack of America." Which in more wholesome words, means that my minuscule population of a town was less than extraordinary; this town was inherently boring, but also reliably safe.
I could probably count on one hand the number of dangerous incidents that happened in the eighteen years I lived there. While this town wasn't noteworthy, it was and still is, home. I grew up on the sidewalks, community pools, and local grocery stores and have known the same kids since I was in elementary school. Our town knew sunny days at the public park, as well as they knew church pews, even if they don't always act like it.
Being from the Midwest, large storms are common, and I mean - extremely common. They come in all sizes and strengths, but year after stormy year, these storms never produced a tornado.
Now don't get me wrong, I grew up three hours away from Joplin and Moore. Two towns who know tornado tragedy all too well, but my town never experienced a tornado. It was so rare that even when a tornado warning was issued in years past it was almost as interesting as walking into homeroom. By this I mean, it was common and familiar and guaranteed to disappoint every single time.
In my eighteen years, I am sure I heard more than twenty tornado warnings for my small town, and never once were we even slightly effected - until four days ago.
"I'm ok, but I don't know about our neighbors, house, or town"
That's the text I woke up to from my mom Sunday morning. My heart sunk as I opened Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and received pictures of my home, neighborhood, and town devastated by an F-2 tornado.
I can not express the heaviness that sinks in when you are miles away from most everyone you've ever known solemnly scrolling through social media seeing pictures of locations you know all too well crushed, altered, ripped apart, or buried under trees that were completely ripped from the ground by their roots.
No one passed or was injured, but that day shifted my town. Mother Nature proved she was stronger than any of us standing eagerly in a field to catch a glimpse of the dangerous winds. It wasn't a novelty anymore. Tornado damage wasn't going to be cleaned with thoughts and prayers.
As with most things in life, it never seems real or likely until it is extremely real and at your front door.
The best thing about tearing a community apart is how quickly they glue themselves together. As soon as sunlight hit neighbors, strangers, family, and friends slipped on their shoes and went to lend a hand wherever they could. It didn't matter how much damage had occurred, our community was determined to band together and help those in need.
I think with all things in life, the younger and more inexperienced you are, the more invincible you feel. I felt invincible to tornados for so many years, the weatherman could tell me a tornado was forming, but I just knew in my heart it would skip our town.
Saturday night it didn't skip, the tornado formed just on the edge of our town and blew through the entire town without any regard to the memories, buildings, and debris it carried along its destructive path. Our town wasn't invincible, at least not next to the unstoppable force of Mother Nature.
As the dust settles, the down trees are cleared, the buildings are rebuilt, and time passes the memory of that Saturday night will rest in everyone's heart a little heavier than other Memorial Day weekend memories. The fact is it could have been worse, we got lucky, and not every town lucks out like we did, but that makes the sun-filled days that much brighter.
Tomorrow is never promised, and sometimes Mother Nature needs to nudge us just a little to remind us of that humble fact.