Bob and Shelly had shared many embraces in their thirty four years of marriage, but this time they couldn’t let go.
“It’s over,” she whispered. Still they clung -listening as small rivers trickled away, leaving them wrapped in ominous silence, stark in its contrast to the deafening roar that subsided only moments ago.
Odd-shaped light beams streamed in from somewhere, illuminating their faces. “Let’s go,” Bob said, perceiving it as a signal to move, and they dared to wriggle from their crouched position under the basement stairway. Carefully, working as a team, they removed boards and stepped over chunks of drywall, eventually crawling through an opening into what should have been their family room. They gasped, unable to process the scene. Nothing remained intact, and many of the belongings strewn about were unfamiliar.
A single photo caught Shelly’s eye and she bent to snatch it, suddenly desperate for one precious possession. Grandma Wilson –the photo had been stored away with countless others. Where were the rest, and why was just this one left in their path? She clutched the rare treasure to her breast.
Emerging at ground level, the couple gazed at length in each direction. Gone was the long hallway where their toddlers took their first uncertain steps. Gone were the walls, behind which promises were made, dreams were dreamt, and both were fulfilled. Gone was Aunt Mable’s bureau, unskillfully carved with a younger Bob’s initials. Gone was the kitchen doorway, notched and initialed, documenting the growth of each of their children.
Every home and business for blocks around was leveled, too. Uprooted trees lay stacked atop mud-caked cars. Remnants of buildings formed untidy mounds. Here and there a bathroom or part of a kitchen stood exposed, walls missing around it. Only a clean-swept foundation remained next door where the Holt’s two-story should have been.
Sounds of life began punctuating the silence. Others emerged from the rubble now, some bruised and bleeding, others pleading for help. Dogs howled, babies cried, and sirens wailed, snaking from surrounding communities, pulsating lights approaching slowly as crews worked to clear the highway of debris.
“Give us strength, Almighty God. Thank you for sparing our lives. May they bring honor and glory to Your name,” Bob stroked his wife’s hair as he prayed. Then he and Shelly went to work seeking out and comforting their neighbors, temporarily setting aside their own sense of horror and loss.
Eighty miles south of the tornado ravaged town, I casually commented on the day’s weather. “What a beautiful day for graduation parties. I thought it was supposed to rain and storm all day. Looks like it all went north of us.” I gestured, noting the murky northern sky. Heaven’s fury had been unleashed as I spoke. As my husband and I neared our destination, the car radio delivered shocking news reports concerning our neighbors to the north.
I readily admit to contriving Bob and Shelly from newscast images, though I strongly defend their existence. They were the couple in the background, calmly sifting through debris behind anchorman Jack Johnson. Tirelessly they returned scattered pieces of lives to their proper owners. They served others from their church kitchen; adamantly denying involvement in any heroic rescues. I feel certain that I’ve chatted with them in line at Wal-Mart or smiled at them from behind my giant tenderloin at Joensy’s Restaurant.
Some might suggest that this imaginary couple represents the spirit of our great state. They embody love, hope, patience, and goodness, but they would say that no good thing dwells in them apart from the Spirit of the living God…the same sovereign God who allowed their home to be swept away and yet spared my own, just eighty miles to the south. …The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!*
I ache for all the real people affected by this devastating storm. Seven people lost their lives that day, and three hundred fifty homes were completely destroyed. Most will rebuild. Perhaps it’s that rebounding spirit that represents our great state.
As for Bob and Shelly, their new house will be a little smaller and cozier now that the children are grown, with a screened in porch facing the garden. It will be a shelter -a place to live and perhaps die one day. But it may never be home. Home is now a memory they carry close to their heart, just like Grandma Wilson’s photo.
*Job 1:21 New American Standard Version
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