What a bright, sunny and wonderful, midday in Tennessee it had been, that summer. Not the faintest hint of clouds to be seen within a powder-blue, lovely sky. My drive home from work was made pleasant enough; the radio turned up loudly enough to sing along with the knowledge of a three-day-weekend, well, that was just great with me.
Pulling into the driveway at my apartment with the car widows down, I lingered a few moments before getting out. Taking the time to appreciate a cool, wind and the smells of country life, a welcomed solitude. Scents of freshly-mown grass and pine needles, wafted through the air while the chirpings of native birds sounded in the distance. A peaceful, pleasant, afternoon.
Padding along the short walkway from the driveway to my front door, juggling an armload of groceries and fumbling for keys, I recall a slight smile of contentment. Inside, the air was cool; the sofa seemed more inviting than most an other thought and so sat down with contemplation of what the weekend might entail.
Within the span of what must have been twenty minutes, the day took on a rather strange, new, face. At once, I began to hear rainfall. While my mind began to puzzle, the puzzlement only increased with each passing second. Curiously, I peered through the drapes at what had previously been such a glamorous day, only to find bewilderment. In mere moments, the sky had become a sickened, greenish-black and produced torrential, rainfall. Most peculiar, beyond the streams of water flowing across the grounds, was that the manner in which the rain came down. Huge droplets, walls and sheets of rainfall, falling with a quite-distinct, curvature; the walls of water did not come down straight, but curved.
Before my mind could begin to process the oddity of what I beheld, as soon as I heard the sounds, the entire ground became white with thousands of hailstones. At once, it was as thought the skies began to rain stones, rather than droplets of water. And then came the darkness, not quite pitch-black, but much liken to early evenings, prior nightfall. Electrical, blue-white fire, roiled through the Elysian fields above, leaving the distinct smell of ozone. The cracklings of lightning were so fierce, I recall. So close, that the ensuing thunder was instantaneous, deafening and concussive.
And as the thought began to register in my mind, the proofs of my fears made themselves manifest. Absolutely, close enough to have thrown and struck it with a baseball, the sky protruded downward…and the tornado was born. Let me say to you, this sounded nothing “like a train” as it is so often described. Watching with heartfelt, panic, terror and awe, the funnel cloud raged. It was as though a four-engine, jetliner had throttled all its engines to maximal power, right in front of my eyes. Such a horrible, dreadful, roar. Bellowing, howling, horrifying.
There was no place to go, time to run or point in either. If the spiraling death, before my eyes, came turned in my direction, I would certainly die. Without any question, I knew this to be a fact. In utter trembling, I stood, awaiting the end of life at the hand of churning destruction while watching large, trees as they snapped like matchsticks before being disintegrated into powder.
As the tornado increased in its fury, cutting a path along the hillside before me, I could make out the absence of everything in its wake. No trees, plants, shrubs…nothing was sparred. It kept going, toward my right, into the neighborhood, consuming all that stood before it, with perfect, ease.
First the trees, then some asphalt, then the first of several cars; one by one, they were taken upward. Soon, a house was swallowed up, completely removed from the face of the Earth. Two more cars, the lawn and everything that once identified someone’s residence, all vanished. And in that very moment, likewise, as though one had flipped the “tornado off” switch, it was over.
At the edge of the property where once the home had been, stood a clothes line, draped with clean, dry, sheets and towels. Not even a blemish of mud, dust or droplet of water on them, the laundry was unaffected. Perhaps, one of the most engrained memories of that day would come to be this sight as I arrived there, having sprinted the distance in hopes of giving aide to anyone. But there were no people, no pets, only the last loads of laundry, carefully hung, by a family who would never again use them.
No, I wasn’t thankful for my survival. In fact, I was angry. For a very, long time, it infuriated me. An entire family, gone away…likely a good family, good people, undeserving of such an end. Upon that now, quiet, street, stood a man who longed for death and was denied it, yet again. My self-imposed penance, evidently, would live onward.
This is but one account, of the multitudinous occasions, wherein, God made a point and I would not take notice. No, I would not read or recognize the giant, neon, sign. It would take many more years, along with countless happenings, before I would finally yield to God. Before I would finally agree to, figuratively-speaking, agree to go to Nineveh or stop, along my Damascus Road.
Not certain as to why I’ve shared this recounting. What good could possibly come from such a story? A stubborn man, racked with grief, self-hatred and anger….who ran, after a tornado, to help people he did not know, believing that he hated them as much as he did himself. Now there is a puzzler that I still wonder about, even to this day.