One year ago today, a massive Ef4/Ef5 tornado, one of the largest and most deadliest in history, destroyed much of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Today, we are a city of survivors, witnesses, heroes and hope. It seems odd to celebrate an anniversary of such a life-altering event like a deadly tornado. For many of us here in Tuscaloosa, and all through Alabama, focusing on the stories of loss and trauma isn’t what we believe this anniversary should be about. Instead, we look ahead, with hope, at the path before us. We have all lost much, and gained more, in the year behind us, and we will continue to do the same in the years ahead.
In the minutes, hours, and weeks after the storm, stricken survivors and witnesses joined forces with thousands of volunteers who rolled into a city whose motto has always been Roll Tide! We found and became heroes, helpers, and hopeful believers that we would be back, we would return, we would recover. There are so many people my family and I are grateful for, our own personal heroes who made a difference in a city’s recovery. One of those special people is a stranger I have never met from Colorado Springs, CO. Cathy and the folks at Simple Pleasures, a craft and scrapbooking store in the shadow of Pike’s Peak, sent boxes and boxes of items to the city of Tuscaloosa, including cards, paper, stickers, crayons, beads and prayers that we used all summer long. We delivered handmade cards to the hospitals and shelters, gave cards with our personal thanks to the volunteers who poured into the city, and organized crafty classes and artsy activities for the neighborhood kids who witnessed the devastation of April 27th. We could not have made it through without these wonderful folks.
You wouldn’t think that something like a pack of paper would mean so much to anybody. But it meant so much to me. Weeks after the storm hit, I was volunteering at a temporary emergency shelter here in Tuscaloosa. All day long, people would drive into the loading bays on the east side of the warehouse, dropping off clothing, baby formula, canned food and supplies. All day long, people would drive into the loading bays on the west side of the warehouse and pick up truckloads of water, toilet paper, and dog food and deliver them to churches, schools and animal shelters that were housing the survivors. That day I opened a big cardboard box that had come in from a van from somewhere out west. Inside the box of supplies was a photograph of a smiling family, and a note to someone in Tuscaloosa – -the person who opened that box. It was a letter of encouragement to the volunteers who labored tirelessly in the sweltering heat of a mildewy warehouse filled with with donated winter coats when we needed summer t-shirts, to the volunteers who picked up an entire house one brick at a time, and the volunteers who rode the emotional roller coaster of surviving the storm to swim through the destruction. The smiling family’s note said they wish they could be there to do more, but were grateful for the people who could do something. That was me. I could do something – -with a box of paper I could personally thank the dozens of volunteers who came across the country to help dig out a city. So I did, and I can thank Cathy and the folks at Simple Pleasures for making that possible.
So today, in Tuscaloosa, we are living our lives in Crimson and White, the colors of the University of Alabama here in Tuscaloosa, the national championship winners of 2011, the Crimson Tide, and my alma mater. A crisis can bring out the best in people, but also the worst. I am proud of the people of Tuscaloosa who will continue to hope.
Live your life in color! ROLL TIDE!