By Bunny Terry, Guest Columnist
Once upon a time, long ago, I lived in Liberal, Kan., which, besides being an oxymoron, was tornado alley.
We spent the summer watching the skies, bottles of water in the basement with blankets, Coleman lanterns and matches that I checked weekly to be sure they were dry. We also spent an inordinate number of evenings in that particular basement because of threatening tornado clouds.
But now I live in Logan – a small, eclectic, eastern New Mexico town on the edge of civilization. But it’s been home since birth except for a 17-year sabbatical in Albuquerque and a couple of bad marriage towns (Liberal and elsewhere).
Logan isn’t very frequently in the news unless our high school basketball team makes it to the state championships or someone catches a record-breaking smallmouth bass at Ute Lake.
Nearly all 1,000 of us who live here permanently go about our lives pretty quietly, without fanfare, every day of the week. During the summer we either enjoy or tolerate the weekenders who come to the lake. I personally enjoy them.
But this past Friday afternoon, we had a tornado. Not the sort of thing that happens here every day. Not the sort of thing that’s actually ever happened here, unless you count a little waterspout that touched down a number of years ago and damaged exactly two homes out at the lake.
On Friday, March 23, without warning, the sky turned black and the winds began – up to 105 miles per hour according to the authorities.
I stood in my office and watched plywood fly through the air. The plate glass door shattered in front of me. I tried to find a place where I felt safe, but there was no such thing. Luckily, my building only sustained the damage of a broken glass door. When the winds finally stopped, I burst into tears of relief. But only for a minute. Then I went outside in the quiet aftermath and gazed down the street at my neighbors, who were also standing outside, stunned.
Homes were destroyed, gone. Evidently, the tornado cut a three-mile swath through the middle of town. Who really knows?
We’ve driven around, awestruck at the magnitude of the destruction, homes scattered like match sticks. We’ve gathered trash from fence lines and ditches. We’ve packed belongings in a mobile home that will certainly be condemned today when the insurance adjuster arrives. We’ve fed strangers and friends alike up at the school with the New Mexico Baptist Association. We’ve dragged tree limbs across empty lots into piles to wait for a trash trailer. We’ve rallied around the village workers, offering to help in any way we can. We’ve greeted volunteer groups from Dalhart and Fort Sumner and Clovis, virtually everywhere within driving distance.
While I was in the ditch with my daughter and local friends, a couple from Canyon, Texas, drove up with a box of trash bags. “How about if we join you?” they asked, and of course we invited them. Like a party, but better.
A neighbor drove up with a trailer. “I’ll load all this trash and take it to the dump.” This from a guy I only see when I’m out running in the morning. Until Saturday afternoon, I didn’t even know his name. Now we will always greet each other as old pals.
The other day, while we were setting up lunch for the workers and the 35 displaced families, a handsome young man wandered over to the serving line and offered to help. “I’m from Albuquerque – I just flew into New Mexico last night, and saw the news. Put me to work.”
So, the point is that in the midst of ugliness, in the midst of hugging my friend whose house was destroyed with her in it, in the midst of dragging sopping wet fiberglass insulation from ditches, there have been shining moments, one on top of the other, or, for lack of a better term, fabulous helping humanity.
We have cried together and then we have marveled at the generosity of the human spirit. We have been disgusted with the news media (do they always have to butcher the truth so thoroughly?), but thrilled with strangers on the roof beside us. The front of our church was damaged, but the building was full Sunday morning. We were too grateful to stay home and sleep in.
It’s a good thing to have dodged a bullet, as Churchill said. There were no fatalities or serious injuries. Just a small town full of lots of helping hands and open hearts. As sappy as it sounds, it feels pretty amazing and magical. Like life.