You had to be there

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The picture above is a satellite image of Tuscaloosa, AL.  See that jagged brown scar sliced diagonally across it?  That’s the path of destruction, visible from space, left by the EF4 tornado that tore through on April 27th, 2011.

I suspect that 4/27/11 is for Tuscaloosa natives a lot like 9/11/01 is for New Yorkers.  You don’t have to have been living in New York the day the Towers came down, or in Tuscaloosa when the tornado ripped through, to be horrified by the tragedy.  But you also will not, cannot, fully understand what it was like to be there.  What it is like to have been there. To have your own life in peril.  To recognize your own city streets buried beneath rubble. To lose your friend, your spouse, your parent, your child, that day.

I am an outsider to both tragedies, although much closer to 9/11. I had a lot of friends in New York, had spent a fair amount of time there, and my husband Pete had lived in the city just a year before 9/11 (you could look down his street and see the WTC, and the copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that we read out loud together was bought from the Barnes and Noble in the WTC mall).

I had no personal connection to Tuscaloosa until Pete got a job at the University of Alabama, over a year after the tornado, so my own experience of 4/27/11 can only be through the echoes.  The stories of friends who were there.  The sight of that path slicing through places I now know  The reactions people have to bad weather. For instance, the kids’ school dismissed students an hour early today due to the possibility of inclement weather this afternoon and evening.  This is a common occurrence.  At one point I joked about it to a friend who worked for federal emergency management in Jackson, Mississippi:

“Jeez, haven’t they ever seen a thunderstorm before?”

“Dude, they had an EF4 tornado a couple years ago.”

I wasn’t thinking.  I wasn’t there.

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