The heavy feeling. Dread. Fear. Anticipation of this day.
This year, I thought I had escaped it. And for the most part, I did. I even re-read parts of my own story, without much internal affect. In the last week I received a couple messages and face to face comments from people I had just met about my tornado blog, and my gut reaction was just...peaceful. As the 2 year anniversary approached, on the runs around town I now take, I would pass the house that, yes, is STILL standing, untouched in the last 2 years, and my heart would ache for the family, as it always has. But I have made my peace with that situation and kept running. Kept going. As I have for 2 years now, I just kept moving forward. I thought the "heaviness" about this day had escaped me this year.
Until yesterday. Yesterday, for the first time I read a new friend's blog post about the tornado. Now living in Kitchener, she grew up in Goderich, had friends and family in town, and was connected to the same fire department I am. As I read her post, I felt the ache she was feeling when she wrote it 2 years ago. There is such power in writing in "real time", as it is happening. When done well, it conveys so much to the reader, you feel like you are right there with them. She took me right back. My chest was tight and my eyes watered as I read. I met this friend in person when I went to the blogging conference in Toronto last fall. Something I did because of my writings after the tornado.
I then read a post about today's anniversary from another facebook friend, who quoted her favourite story in the book she co-authored "Not Like Any other Sunday". Here is the excerpt, written by Katrina Bos:
"My daughter and I emerged out of our basement to find our entire neighbourhood demolished. Everything was flattened, destroyed or torn apart. All of our trees were down, hydro poles everywhere. As we walked up town, all you could smell was natural gas and marigolds. There were sirens and people yelling in to blow horns. And amidst all of this chaos, the sun was shinging and the air had that clean feeling that only happens after a big storm. As strange as it was, it was also phenomenally real. Our day-to-day world can feel very phony and surface-oriented. That post-tornado time was strangely REAL. I never want to forget that.
I never want to forget the amazing people in our community who came out and helped clean up. When we were all still in shock and emotionally exhausted, hundreds of people just started pitching in and doing what they could. At first it was just moving things manually into piles. Then came the rakes and the wheelbarrows. Then the pick-ups, tractors and trailers appeared. Then there were people bringing food and water, coffee and sweets. And they were doing it for no other reason except they simply wanted to help. I never want to forget feeling so phenomenally thankful and connected to other wonderful human beings.
The tornado of August 21st was a terrible, scary thing to happen. And many others had incredibly more traumatic experiences than I did. And many others lost so much more than I did.
But for me, there are many thing that I will take away from this. I have a new understanding of what is really important and worth stressing about. I am clearer what is real in the world and what is just smoke-and-mirrors.
And no matter how hard life seems and how alone we feel, we are always connected and loved by others.
For these things I will always be thankful."
Later last night, a neighbour posted her own reflections on the eve of the anniversary. Kathy wrote: "But it was a moment in time. And we moved through it, worked together, used the energy it left behind to build a stronger community, stronger families, stronger people. We found strength in friends, family, and complete strangers that we never knew was there. That energy still is here. It created; Out of the Storm, Windstock, and Pay it Forward. We've grown as a neighbourhood, and moved on through the adverse. We are blessed with strong roots and flexible branches (too bad the trees were not). Born of Pioneer stock who knew hard work will pay off. I Often wonder where would we be without August 21 2011. Would we know of our resilience, of our strength, of our wonderful neighbors, friends and complete strangers? I'm not sure we would. Not that I'm thankful for a F3 but I'm thankful for what it has taught me. Stay safe, you are loved and cared about more then you may ever know!"
Now, looking back and considering all that has happened since, these are my sentiments as well. What Katrina wrote is my favourite excerpt from that book too.
In the past little while, I have tried to take a page out of my dear friend Ang's book by publically sharing the many things I am grateful for. Big things, little things, everyday things. There is so much in this world and in my life to be grateful for and if ever there was a day for a"gratitude" post, this is it. 2 years has given me that much more perspective.
That tornado changed my life. It took me a few days in August 2011 to realize the enormity of the situation. My path changed that day, and today, I am going to focus on the ways in which it changed for the better.
2 years ago I learned more than I had ever learned before about friendship. None of our family lives here and within a couple hours Goderich was shut down to outsiders. Thankfully, my mom was able to get in, get the kids and get out before that happened, but once it did, that's how it was. We felt like we were separated into 2 groups: those who lived here in Goderich, and those who didn't. We had no family to help us, but we had friends who stepped up and filled their roles. I have said it many times, I have amazing friends. Life long, can't live without you friends. Friends who, when the going gets tough, role up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Not just physically, but more importantly, emotionally. People who listen, are available, pay attention, are intuitive, and care. Really really care. I have a girlfriend who opened her home to me and in doing so, became my mother, my sister, my confidant and my therapist. The one other female in this world who saw everything, and every reaction I had, in real time, for the first 14 days afterwards. Thanks to that tornado our friendship is immeasurably deeper and she is my "go to" for so many things. Thanks to that tornado she is one of my best friends. I have a friend whose husband fought alongside mine for days, and then came to help us on his days off. Whose daughters set up a guest bathroom in their home for anyone who may need to use it. Who emptied all the meat out of her freezer and cooked it all to feed the hungry.Who, in every single instance of severe weather since, sends me texts to see how I am doing. She is one of the most intuitive, caring, grateful people I have ever met in my life and thanks to that tornado, we have gotten to know each other and understand each other much more than we ever did before. I have a friend whose life, like mine, was turned upside down, but while we rented a house across town as a new one was being built, she had to live in hers while it was being repaired. A friend, who despite her own dramatic experiences quite literally held me up when my knees buckled beneath the stress and like any good mother, worked to protect me from life's injustices. One who even now, 2 years later, shares a bond with me that no one else does. My tornado friend forever, thanks to that F3..
I have so many more friendships I could speak of, I could go on and on. That tornado created many bonds between residents who live within these town limits. That first afternoon and overnight we were facing it alone, but we were in it together. We had eachother, and I am so grateful for those I had. I never want to forget what that was like, during such an emotionally charged time.
I am grateful for the man my brother has become. He truly shone that week, and in the months afterwards as we worked to build our house. He was such a bugger growing up, but has made up for it tenfold. I said over and over again that I truly don't think I could have made it through a lot of it without my brother's apparent cool head and logical thought processes. He was one of my knights, one of my heroes. I am so lucky to have a bond like that with my brother, and hope it continues for the rest of our lives. You learn a lot about people during crises and I was overwhelmed by my brother's ability to take over and keep me on track. Whether family or not, everyone should have someone in their life they can depend on like that. Thanks to that tornado, I and everyone else in my family learned the kind of man my brother is, and what he is capable of. Thanks to that tornado, my brother's strengths were showcased beautifully. I never want to forget what that was like, his grace, confidence and courage, and the way his steady gaze and assured tone could lift me up and calm me down.
I am grateful for those who just want to help. No matter what the cause, what the reason, because they have been helped and know how it feels and just want to help someone feel better, to lighten their load however they can. I never want to forget what it was like to see so many vehicles from municipalities other than our own...so many unfamiliar police and fire vehicles. So many people literally walking up and down streets with popsicles, sandwiches, bottles of water. Just to help. No ulterior motive. Before there was any official call for assistance, people were there, in droves. Newspapers full of pictures of cheque presentations. From corporations, charity BBQs and lemonade stands. Thanks to conversations between strangers on an airplane. Thanks to church collection plates. Thanks to anonymously dropped off cards and large organized donation drives and concerts. Nothing affirms your faith in humanity more than being a part of something like that. Every day there are plenty of stories in the media of terrible people with ill intentions. But please know that there are also people that are performing ordinary miracles every single day. Paying for a stranger's coffee or movie ticket. Donating to a food bank or helping to buy presents. Clothing children. Replacing lost or stolen items. Giving people a hand up, whatever that may look like, just because they want to help. Their hearts are in the right places. There are so many good people in this world and in our own community who do what they do because they love what they do and want to make a difference, and thanks to that tornado I was really able to believe that. I will never forget the good people.
Thanks to that tornado, you and I have connected. You have listened and in some way I have helped you to feel like you are not alone, or I have helped you to understand and check your initial thoughts and/or stereotypes. Thanks to that tornado I have opened and am opening doors I may have otherwise shied away from. Because nothing is forever, nothing is guaranteed, and all we have is right now, so I am choosing to enjoy the ride. I have learned to make the most of every situation, to not stress about what I cannot change, and to just smile, accept that whatever it is, "it is what it is", and to be grateful.
I am so grateful.
There were moments in that first week that I knew were incredibly special. Deep inside myself I felt like I didn't want to forget what was happening. That this was monumental, life changing emotional real-ness that may not ever happen again. I wanted to take pictures with my mind and keep them there forever. In many ways that week was the worst of times but honestly, also the best of times. I felt guilty thinking like that, what with all that was lost, and so I suppressed it. Then, a few months later I read what Katrina had written and I was validated. I wasn't the only one who saw the beauty in Goderich's darkest day.
Even now, I struggle with writing that. A life was lost. Today marks 2 years since a family lost their patriarch. Nothing anyone ever says will ever put a positive spin on that. Its easy for us to forget, but we can't. Thanks to that tornado, a man lost his life, and a family continues to grieve. No one should ever minimize or forget that.
But also, that darkest day showcased our true potential, as individuals and as communities. The labels, stereotypes, class distinctions and masks were all ripped off and we all just....were. We coexisted as equals. We learned that there is so much good within so many and we built each other up. What a journey this has been and is. You never know where life will take you. You never know when your path will veer off in a new direction, when a new door will present itself to you.
August 21 2011...a day I will never forget either.
The first female voice in this video is mine.