On Sunday a tornado ripped through our community. "Ripped" is putting it mildly.
We were at church and completely unaware that the weather concoction which makes such violent forces of nature existed. I should have known when I walked outside and was surprised at how warm it was. It should have been a clue when my husband and I joked about the town's Christmas tree nearly blowing over.
But we were oblivious until a series of phone alarms went off in the middle of a sermon about King Nebuchadnezzar.
Everyone calmly went to the basement. The children were already there. Lights flickered. We prayed. At one point the sermon continued. Whispers went around the room that Washington had been hit. Dustin tried frantically to get a hold of our friends that were at church exactly where we heard it had touched down. No one answered.
We were told by people who know such things that the storms were headed Northeast - in the direction of our home. I felt very safe at church. Then we were told that we had about a 30 minute window of time to get home before a second string came. I've never watched Dustin drive so fast.
It turns out our town wasn't hit. It was eerily normal - the leaf piles still intact along the street curbs. We drove through our untouched village as we listened on the radio to stories of destruction - entire neighborhoods with street names we recognized as those of friends'. Newscasters out of breath and in awe at the devastation. We had no electricity, and wouldn't have any for 48 hours. Small peanuts. We tried to stay warm and conserve our phone batteries as we texted friends we knew were in the path, or close to it. We searched desperately for news - any news. We sat in the dark and listened to the radio. We cried for our neighbors and shushed our children.
But this isn't a post about how we were impacted. Because really, we weren't impacted until much later. It's a post about community.
Status update after status update from Facebook friends read, "We're fine, but our house is gone!" and "Praise God! Every living thing made it." Former co-workers, former students, friends. No one asked why.
The photographs shocked me.
But NOTHING can prepare you for what real-life devastation looks like, and I saw that finally on Tuesday. Even from a distance it caught in my chest and tore at my insides. This was my friends' reality. They were smiling and laughing through this. People have spent days speculating on how an EF-4 could plummet into an entire residential neighborhood and only take the life of one. There are miracles in that rubble.
I went down to a donation center to help with donations, but they didn't need me. Too many people wanted to help. There were at least three UHauls in the parking lot. I watched as a human conveyor belt unloaded one filled to its ceiling with clothing, food, water, and blankets. I asked where they were from. Rockford. Hours away. They had come here just days after to help.
Status updates are my closest form of news. Instagram photos of found objects, and people sitting among their debris laughing at the absurdity of it. One sentence statements litter my newsfeed, adults finding small things like their wedding rings, and former art students celebrating the discovery of a painting they were sure was miles away.
And then the community. It would make an outsider jealous at the strength and love they have shown one another. Part of me wishes I could walk into my old classroom with the amazing people I worked with, and watch this community heal in the only way it knows how - with stoic bravery and love. I have never been so proud to live in Central Illinois as I am right now.
And you, my sons, will be stronger because the community you live in is the strongest I know.
(Photos totally stolen from the associated press, please don't sue me.)