An Unexpected Storm

“It just goes to show ya! It’s always something!”

Roseanne Roseannadanna (alias Gilda Radner)

Sure enough, the tornado siren two blocks away that had run this week’s Wednesday practice session at 10 am, was wailing its warning at a bit past 8 that same night. The National Weather Service was firmly announcing in my fancy hearing aids that this was a Tornado Warning – find shelter. Calmly and coolly, I made my way down the two flights of stairs to the underground parking of my apartment complex. I’m old enough and experienced enough to know one does NOT take the elevator. Still, it was just a bit of a challenge, at 80, to descend those 42 stairs.

A few of my neighbors were already there and we did our Emergency Response bonding that we do whenever tornadoes or fire engines are on their way. Young people were bringing their furry friends along and one cat screeched its displeasure at having its quiet life upset so unceremoniously.

This fast-moving storm had been predicted the day before, and up until recently, I would have spent 24+ hours fretting and anxious about the coming danger of catastrophic winds, especially 90 – 100 mph gusts. We had all just heard about the tornadic destruction in states south of us the day before, so perhaps we could be forgiven if we were just a tad overwrought as our own storms began to move up from the southwest. We had been pummeled all day with watches and threats of destruction, so it was not easy to keep a level head. But there I was, calm and level-headed in the midst of the latest “something” that had arrived.

I had responsibly charged my DeWalt lithium ion battery for my brightest light in case we lost power and replaced the two old “D” batteries in my regular flashlight. (I was SO proud that I actually had fresh ones on hand.) My ancillary battery pack for my iPad and the iPad itself were in a canvas bag, and my phone was fully charged. I listened closely to the ongoing weather reports as the storm grew closer and then passed through.

Bottom line: I’ve reached an age when “it’s always something” has become solid Truth. I have been through enough “somethings” that another one has simply become the next challenge, the next “something” to get through.

No catastrophizing. No panic. No fear. Just – another thing. Act accordingly. Be smart; be wise.

I’ll tell you a story about how I think that came to be.

On July 15, 1980, a derecho weather system raged its way through Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I lived with my husband and two boys. All night there were recurring tornado sirens. It was a night of non-stop fear.

The seemingly endless winds blew, toppling hundreds of trees in a city designated as a Tree City for its beauty. Derecho winds are straight line winds, so every street on high ground had every tree down, pulled from its roots and lying in the middle of the street. Only one house in the city had a tree fall on it, as I remember. The sound of chain saws rent the air day after day.

Two weeks later, I drove to the major park in the city, Carson Park, to see how it had fared. I was stunned to see the destruction, but there were still trees standing. The most intriguing sight caused me to stop and pull to the side of the road to take in what I had never seen before.

A huge circle of fully-grown, immense and heavily leafed oaks still stood straight and tall. They formed a perimeter half the size of the nearby baseball field. I had to crane my neck back to see the tops. As if attending a funeral, they surrounded dozens upon dozens of fallen sisters and brothers. They had all been caught, just nights before, in the frenzy of the derecho winds, surely bending dangerously as they were whipped over and over.

Only the outer trees still stood. Only the outer ones. The rest were lying on the ground, their roots upended, their canopies crushed on the soil that had held them for maybe a hundred years or more.

Why? Here is what I think:

The outer ones survived because they were the first ones lashed by winds over the decades of storms that had whipped against them. Perhaps not 112 mph derecho speeds, but surely some were very bad. In their youth, they had had resilience, they could bend without breaking. But they had to fight to endure. So they grew their roots deeper and deeper with every storm. By the time they were elders, they could withstand anything that nature could mount against them.

The inner trees, in contrast, had been protected from the worst of the winds by those on the outer perimeter. They did not have to fight as hard. They could survive with more shallow roots. But they remained more vulnerable to the worst storm that would show up that one summer night in 1980.

So it is with us. “It’s always something” is universal. The more “somethings” we have, the more opportunities we have to dig our roots deeper; to grow our resilience and our courage for the next time. To temper our fear.

To find this Great Calm may seem to be a small thing. But to be able to let go of the fear of the “somethings” over which we have little or no control is a priceless gift. It has taken me 80 years, but I seem to have been finding a kind of “peace that passes all understanding.” I like to call that “grace.”

Postscript: No tornados appeared; the winds blew mightily for much of the night, but our building stood strong and we awoke to snow flurries. It had been 65 on storm day, and we awoke to 20 degrees. And so it goes in Minnesota…

Also, I climbed those 42 steps back up once we were cleared! Proud doesn’t do that accomplishment justice.

And I’m very okay with that.