All too often we see pictures of and hear stories about homes, neighborhoods, and even entire towns wiped out by fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and flood waters. These images and news stories are graphic and raw and remind us all of how truly vulnerable we are in our relationship with Mother Nature.
And while we feel sympathy for – and in some cases even grieve for and with – those whose homes were destroyed and lives are now turned completely upside down, there remains a substantial distance between our reality and their reality. We can intellectually understand and appreciate the severity of the crisis and how devastated those directly affected must be, but that does not mean we understand and appreciate what it would feel like to stand in their shoes.
And then the day comes when your city, your town, or your street is in the path of a disaster, and your family, your friends, or even you are those who others are seeing pictures of and hearing about on the news.
A few years ago a tornado plowed through and destroyed much of downtown Iowa City, Iowa, where my alma mater, the University of Iowa, is located. Around the same time, floodwaters literally drowned downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I first began my career with the Red Cross and where my husband and I lived right after we were married.
And then last week, an awful tornado ravaged parts of my most recent Red Cross and family home outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thanks to the Washtenaw-Lenawee County Chapter’s blog and Facebook page – where Jenni Hawes, the Chapter’s Disaster Public Relations Representative (and one of my best friends, I’m proud to share), and other team members have been posting frequent updates and links to online photo albums and media stories – I’ve been able to follow the story closely.
The images are graphic and raw and remind me how truly vulnerable we are in our relationship with Mother Nature. My immediate family wasn’t in the path of nor was my home destroyed by that tornado, and for that I am extraordinarily grateful. But my one of my towns – even though I no longer live there – was, and my Red Cross family and friends are those whose pictures and stories are now appearing on the national news.
I am grieving for and with those whose homes were destroyed and lives are now turned completely upside down, and I feel as though the distance between my reality and their reality has decreased dramatically. I can intellectually understand and appreciate the severity of the crisis and how devastated those directly affected must be, and because the disaster hit so close to home I can better understand and appreciate what it would feel like to stand in their shoes. And it hurts.
I chose to write on this topic today because if I needed a reminder, perhaps others out there need a reminder as well. A reminder to be compassionate and generous – in whatever way is most comfortable and appropriate for you – when the images and stories on the news are about people you’ve never met and places you’ve never lived. Because while they may be strangers to you, to someone else they are the world.