ed. - I've sat here for quite some time trying to find the right words to say about what happened a year ago, but sometimes words don't come as easily as we'd like them to. I finally just sat down and let the words flow with little to no editing.
I remember waking up in the wee hours of April 27, 2011 in Birmingham with my blinds slamming into the windows because strong winds had nearly blown them to the point of being horizontal. It was hard to go back to sleep seeing gigantic trees sway like wheat in a gentle breeze. Things settled down eventually and after briefly returning to sleep, my alarm clock went off. I went ahead to work though and I got the first bit of bad news of the day: my uncle's house was damaged in that round of early morning storms. He was fine, but I hated that he'd have to deal with that problem. Regardless, I was grateful he was okay and continued on with my day. I remember there being a palpable sense of dread at work all day long. Everybody was kind of on edge about it, which was weird. This is Alabama after all. We have tornadoes all the time. For whatever reason, there was something different in the air that day and everybody knew it.
As the day wore on, the news grew more dire: Cullman was hit badly as were a host of other places and the predictions for Tuscaloosa and Birmingham grew more grim by the minute. We waited and waited...hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. And then the worst happened. My phone was in constant use during the storms using Twitter and texting to comfort friends and family and to make sure they were okay. Eventually the tornado worked its way out of Tuscaloosa after carving up and destroying large parts of the city. I was lucky, I managed to get in touch with all of my friends and family relatively quickly. Everyone was okay. But now it was our turn.
It's a hell of strange thing sitting there waiting for disaster to strike knowing you can't do a damn thing to stop it if fate chooses to put you in its path. There I was, elated that all of my Tuscaloosa people were in the clear and now we were staring down the barrel of the damn thing ourselves. My immediate family was spread out over three different residences in Birmingham and the predictions were that it was headed right for us. As it got closer and closer it changed path and headed north. I was in the city limits of Birmingham and while I never saw it with my own eyes, I heard it. To this day, the sharpest memory I have after getting the all clear was us heading out of the hallway to the living room to watch the news on TV and how eerily quiet it was. It was between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on a weekday. We weren't too terribly far from an interstate...there should have been tons of noise from commuter traffic, but there was nothing. And then the silence was broken by a convoy of emergency response vehicles: police trucks, fire trucks, ambulances, etc. Those damn sirens told us everything we needed to know before the news had a chance: it was bad.
Nearly 250 Alabamians lost their lives that day. Quite a few others in other states did as well. That's beyond horrific and that doesn't even take into account those that were injured or that lost their jobs because their place of work was blown away or of the widespread property damage in general. The state took a beating that day in terms of people, property, jobs and infrastructure. We woke up on April 28th limping and battered, but determined to go on and to rebuild.
None of us that lived through it will ever forget that horrible day nor will we forget those who lost their lives even if we didn't actually know any of them. The events of that day were beyond our control, but some things aren't. It is within our power to rebuild, to help each other monetarily and to help emotionally to carry on and to get things back to normal as soon as possible (which will, admittedly, be easy for some and nearly impossible for others.) Very quickly we saw the outpouring of love offered by our fellow Alabamians and by those out of our borders. RBR & Well That's Cool organized the Sunshine Express, folks like John Lytle Wilson and Wes Frazer organized the Rebuild Alabama art auction and countless others organized similar events across their communities. We expect that outpouring in the wake of tragedy, but the folks of Alabama have shown a steely resolve and nearly a year later we're still working at picking up the pieces. Folks like Bo Hicks and the WellThatsCool.com crew put together events like the Tuscaloosa Get Up which built a house for someone that lost their home in the tornado. That event happened just a month ago and we still need that kind of vision and dedication from people. Habitat for Humanity needs help building, money is still needed and people still need help healing their emotional scars.
I certainly encourage you all to pause today and remember the tragic events of a year ago, but I also encourage you to honor those who lost their lives by helping those whose lives were torn apart in that tragedy. Give a few bucks if you can, donate some time to go build a house or clear debris (these things still need doing in a lot of places) or even just give someone a hug and tell them you love them if that's all that time and your budget allows, because that's damn important too. We'll be better off on April 28, 2012 than we were on April 28, 2011 and hopefully we'll be better off still on April 28, 2013. Don't ever forget that day. Lend a hand when and where you can. We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Love each other.