Tragedies Remind Us What is Most Important

May 21st, 2013

Watching television coverage from Moore, Oklahoma, last evening brought back for me the same horrible feeling I had when the shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last December.

Whether natural or manmade, any tragic event involving children is almost too difficult to comprehend.  Knowing that children were or still are trapped inside their own school where they should be safe is the most helpless feeling.

I grew up in Dallas.  One distinct memory I have from childhood is the frequent tornado drills we practiced.  A bell would sound.  We’d file out of our classroom and out into the hallway to crouch down in front of our lockers with our arms covering our heads. Fortunately, we never faced a real tornado threat where we needed to use what we’d practiced.

I’ve only been truly affected by tornadoes twice.  The first time was while practicing law years ago.  On May 27, 1997, tornadoes swept across north Austin.  I was downtown safely tucked away in a former bank vault in the building where I worked. When the alarms went out to take cover, a few of my fellow attorneys attempted to keep up the appearance of work before everything else, but it didn’t take long for even the most stoic among us to join everyone huddled below.

My fear was not for myself but for my nanny and toddler son.  They were in our apartment in north Austin where the worst of the storm was happening.  We lived on the highest floor of the building which was absolutely the worst place to be.  I tried to listen to weather reports and every tornado reported seemed to be somewhere close to where we lived.  I couldn’t get in touch with anyone and not knowing what’s happening in such a situation is quite chilling. Fortunately, I later found out that a neighbor we’d never even met who lived on the bottom floor of our building offered shelter to my nanny and son during the storm, and they were fine.

Sadly, just north of our home, the town of Jarrell, Texas, was hit by an E-5 tornado that day.  An entire subdivision of homes was wiped from their foundations.  In Moore, Oklahoma, until yesterday, everyone talked about May 3, 1999, as the worst storm they’d experienced.  In Austin, we all remember Jarrell as the worst that can happen.

In my second experience, I was directly in the path of the tornado.  My sisters and I had decided to go to Orlando together to celebrate my youngest sister’s birthday.  We were sitting together in a restaurant at DFW Airport when we noticed national television reports of Breaking News that a tornado was heading directly for DFW Airport.

We looked at each other and almost said in unison, “Oh, no!  That’s where we are!”

Immediately, we followed the panicked crowds of travelers headed for the nearest restroom which are designated storm shelters.

I will never forget the sound of that storm coming through.  It was loud and terrifying.  You literally thought the building would come apart and yet we weren’t even close to having that happen.

It’s interesting how people handle terror differently.  I remember thinking to myself the irony of the whole thing.  I might get killed in an airport restroom.  As a person who gets shivers just thinking of a place crawling with germs, I’m not a big fan of spending more time than I need to in one of those places.  Knowing that my life depended on that room struck me as a bit surreal.

I can’t even imagine what people go through when their home or school actually does come apart.  It’s awful beyond words to think about what those children at Plaza Tower Elementary went through yesterday.

Today, pray for the people of Moore, Oklahoma. Also, remember the people of North Texas who are currently under threat of severe weather the rest of the day.

And if you live in a place where the sky is beautiful today and you expect a perfect day appreciate it as a true gift from God.