I recently watched (read: sobbed through) an interview of a woman whose children were killed in the Tornado that savagely tore through Arkansas last year. One minute their hands were clasped together in the living room, the next she was face down, pantless, and severely injured, lying in a field of nothingness.
But when she was able to to get up and look around, what struck her was that the world was still abuzz amidst the destruction. Birds were singing. Flowers were swaying in the wind. The sun was shining. The world was still turning and moving and living and creating. And it was beautiful despite the carnage.
As I listened to her, I wept, those soft, warm, spreading tears that flow when you realize someone understands, that they know what it’s like to see the rubble of the world you knew and in your brokenness find something new, something lovely, something worthy in the ashes.
I suppose that’s really the essence of life. We live and die, build and tear down, suffer and find peace. All of it makes up all of us.
But the storms, the natural disasters, they level us to our very foundation. They teach us how to start again, how to find grace in grief, how to live boldly in the face of death.
When mine came surging toward me, I didn’t see the darkened sky or the feel the wind shoving its way against my skin. I was hit from behind and caught by surprise, an easy target.
“Your dad is dead.”
The words hit me like a hurricane, hurling my body into a slump on the floor and ringing my ears so hard that any noise was a distant sound. When I could finally hear myself screaming hysterically, “My Daddy!” it sounded like someone else, like I was watching myself from afar. Grief ran up my throat and choked it into strangled screams.
Once I could form words, I howled, “What happened? He was only 46. Dear God, he was only 46!” I had to ask the first question at least three times before I got the response.
“It appears he hanged himself.”
The air disappeared from the room, and I swallowed my heartbeat. Wails. That’s really the only way I can describe what emerged from within me, deep, gut-wrenching, bone-chilling wails of lament. My sweet daddy was gone, the man who held my hand, taught me life lessons, and loved me more than anyone. In an instant and at his own hand.
This was my storm. This was the thing that threw me into a field of nothingness, the thing that leveled my faith, left me naked, and revealed the core of my foundation.
It hurt lying there bare, alone, scared. It was hard to stand up, to wipe myself off, and to look around at the desolation that surrounded me. Despair was my only friend for a little while. Tears leaked out of my eyes for months, and I worried I would never be the same, that I would never recover.
But I did. It wasn’t pretty. It was gritty and raw and uncomfortable and hard. It took years. But I recovered all the same, however inelegant it may have been.
Eventually, I stumbled around the places the storm had obliterated, took a deep breath, and saw that I survived. I was not a victim. And even amidst visceral destruction, I saw beauty. The birds were still singing. The flowers were still swaying. The world was still working.
And I was intact.
And so it was. The cyclone of pain and loss demolished everything I thought I knew, but it allowed me to rebuild, brick by brick, step by step, until I finally felt whole again.
Suffering, stories, storms—these are experiences that define being human, and when we share them with one another, we learn, and we heal. We ensure that our pain is not wasted.
Something deep within my spirit rumbled and comforted me. It pointed to the shambles and looked back at me and said, “See, you’re going to be okay. You made it. You’re going to walk again. These cuts will leave scars, but they’ll heal, and you’ll compare them with others and help heal theirs. This is your destiny. This storm was not to end you. It was to begin again, to give renewal.”