It has been a difficult couple of months for Tennesseans. After springing forward an hour in early March, we were once again reminded of the darker side to the age-old adage, “Spring showers bring May flowers.”
Mother Nature dealt many of our friends and neighbors a heavy hand on the evening of March 31. Straight-line winds, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes struck hard and caused serious damage across the state. Many homes and buildings were destroyed. Trees and power poles were snapped like toothpicks.
While property can be insured and buildings can be rebuilt, both the direct and indirect tolls on human beings are much more sinister. The randomness of a tornado’s path and the sheer power of the winds are difficult to comprehend. I can only imagine the fear that one must feel as their own safety and mortality are removed from their control. This type of fear is traumatizing and will remain with those who experience it for years to come. It will change their lives forever.
Sadly, 10 of our fellow Tennesseans lost their lives. Many others were injured. Family, friends, co-workers and neighbors of these victims will grieve mightily and experience their own trauma.
My co-worker’s home was frighteningly close to the worst of the storms in McNairy County. As I watched the meteorologist explain the telltale radar images overlaying familiar roads and landmarks near his home, I prayed for the safety of his precious family. And while they did remain safe, many of their neighbors did not.
In the moments just before I fell asleep that night, I felt immense sadness for the loss of life. I felt angry that such a tragedy could happen to innocent people who did nothing to bring it upon themselves. I felt my own version of fear that such a thing could ever happen to me. I felt glad that my friend and his family were safe. I felt relieved that I had not experienced any of the devastation myself. And then I felt immediate guilt for focusing on myself rather than those directly affected.
Unfortunately, all these same emotions were already stirring deep in my soul. Only four days earlier, the extended community in which my family lives and worships had experienced its own immense tragedy. Seemingly as random as the path of a tornado but more brutally traumatic because of the intentionality of the crime, six people plus the shooter were killed in a place that should be a safe haven: at a school and a church. When I heard the name Covenant Presbyterian, I immediately felt the same emotions that would reappear just days later during the tornado — and for strikingly similar reasons.
So many of us are feeling strong emotions about the things that surround us. But the truth is that it doesn’t take something as dramatic as a tornado or the murder of innocent lives to traumatize and hurt us. Every one of us has experiences and pain that scar us and leave us seeking answers.
So what gift can you give your fellow Tennessean who might be experiencing any kind of emotional trauma? Might I suggest something uncommon? Give them time. Time to hurt. Time to grieve. Time to heal. Time with you. Rather than bombarding them with your answers, solutions and suggestions, just be with them. Hurt with them. Grieve with them.
If you are lucky, perhaps you can heal with them, too.