Imagine walking out your front door and seeing a lovely neighborhood reduced to rubble.
I speak in shame because we’re one of the fortunate families who still has a front door. Looking out of it, there is a numbing disbelief at what we see.
We’re still only days into the aftermath of the deadly tornadoes that swept suburban Birmingham, Alabama before the shell-shocked dawn of January 23.
I’ve never been in a war. But this must be what bombs and battles leave behind. Surely, a savage twister tore this area as good as most any man-made missile could do.
Only days ago, these homes — not just houses — were safe havens for families from the cruel world outside. Jogging past them in summer and winter, heat and cold, one could mark the seasons of our neighbors’ lives. A new baby. A new car. A kid home from college. The first mowed grass of spring. The paint palette of autumn on every tree in every lawn.
It has changed things forever.
We still don’t know where many of these families physically are right now. Sure, they’re in hotels, apartments, hopefully with supportive extended family. But, we believe some are still in hospital. Six people left here in ambulances, three in critical condition.
The stories. Oh, the stories we’ve both heard and the ones that dance like specters in our minds.
There’s one story about a neighbor who I’ll call Mr. Winthrop. That’s not his real name. Mr. Winthrop has a special needs granddaughter for whom he is principal caregiver. A neighbor says Mr. Winthrop, in the screaming seconds before the tornado hit, shielded his granddaughter in her upright wheelchair with his body wrapped around it and her.
Mr. Winthrop took on the tornado in utter darkness. Last we heard, despite two collapsed lungs and multiple contusions, Mr. Winthrop survives and is at a local hospital. His granddaughter I hear is doing well. His house doesn’t exist anymore.
Swarms of precious-hearted volunteers have poured in to the area. Even some University of Alabama football players came through on Saturday, helping an Auburn-oriented neighbor pry and haul heavy logs. True love transcends the artificial walls we build between each other.
Love will help win this long, protracted struggle to return to life — the next Battle of Pilgrim’s Rest.