Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dealing with Emotions, with Horror

by Vivian Zabel 

         I sat at my computer to write my article for a newsletter about writing conferences, and the events of May 19 and 20, the horrific tornadoes of last week and their damage, filled my mind until I have to address the fear, the helplessness, the hopelessness, and even the relief. Those of us who have a deep faith hang tight to that stabling force, but the emotions still remain, sometimes strangling us.

         As writers, we have a way to manage, to use those daunting emotions and experiences; we can and should write. We can incorporate the churning agony into words that might help others understand, to feel, to know. Suffering brings realism to our writing if we can show through words what we see, feel, hear.

         As a tornado raced over our house May 19, the day before the mighty EF5 tried to destroy Moore, Oklahoma again, the shock of the house trembling and the pounding of debris hitting the walls left me frozen, scared beyond measure, for a few seconds. Then I hurried to the door to face plywood in our breezeway and tree branches the size of small trees scattered everywhere. A neighbor across the street had roof damage, but all the branches on our side of the street missed our house and vans, as well as our neighbors’ houses on either side of us. My heart thumped faster than usual for some time before settling back to its regular pattern, and then I felt relieved and thankful. That same tornado touched down less than a quarter-mile away before lifting and building as it sped toward areas to the east, churning destruction across several towns and communities, killing two, leaving many without houses, cars, clothing, or belongings. At least most had memories because they lived. I never so feared weather before, but I did then. Having one nearly touch down on one's roof can do that.

         On television, I watched as the killer tornado developed and built on May 20, 2013, heading toward a town only twenty miles south of where I live. With tens of thousands of people, I followed its path across my homeland. I cried when it cloaked itself in billows of people’s lives. My heart broke when it flatted houses, business, and, worst of all, schools. I sat glued to the set as television helicopters gave us a view of hell. I heard the cries for help. I saw the terror on faces. I felt the pain shooting through people as they dug with hands, boards, pieces of metal to reach children in the shambles that once were schools, to reach individuals and families buried under what once were homes and businesses. The shot of a policeman carrying the blanket-wrapped form brought back memories of the Federal building bombing in downtown Oklahoma City years before. Tears streamed down my cheeks, as they do now. The empty yet suffocating terror of that day still fills the center of my chest. I sat watching and could do nothing. The helplessness and hopelessness became a heavy load on my mind as I knew I could do nothing but watch the nightmare unfold and the frantic searches continue all through the night. I also saw the love and joy when loved ones reunited and tried to absorb one another with hugs.

         Words cannot completely portray all I saw, heard, and felt this week of horror, grief, and despair. However, they can help me deal with all those emotions and help me share them with others. The strangest feeling for me has been relief. I told someone that I selfishly felt relieved that my family and I only received a very glancing blow from the tornado invasion. I’m thankful, so very thankful and relieved. I in no way am glad that others suffered and died, but I can’t help but be relieved we didn’t. Survivor guilt is alive and well within me. I am fortunate because no child in my family was harmed. We don't have to plan another funeral for a baby. Scars tore open by the wounds of others as they searched and found their children. The screams I can't hear still echo through my mind, the screams of parents who must now bury their babies. The cries of children who no longer have a mother or a father or maybe either. Yet, in the rubble of Moore, of Luther, of Carney, of Shawnee, of Little Axe, of areas not in towns or cities, the strength of those surviving sends lights of hope as they already talk of rebuilding.

         In time, the horror will fade, and after years, we may become more complacent. Even with all the warnings blasted from the radio and television, we’ll once again say to ourselves that we won’t be hit. If I ever begin to think I will not be in danger when the sirens scream, I will read my words and then find shelter, praying all the while.

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  1. Vivian, what a beautifully written expression of the horrors you have so recently experienced. I have thought of you often over the past several days and am glad to hear you were safe throughout this crisis. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the tornado, esp. the families involved in the school disasters. Here in Connecticut, we are still reeling from the school tragedy in Newtown. School should be a safe haven, not a place for children to fear!

    1. Our world is so full of pain and suffering, whether caused by man or by nature. I cried with the people in Connecticut, too. I think when we see children involved we feel the pain even more.

  2. Dear Vivian,
    Thank you for sharing your fears and your emotions during the time of the tornado in your neighborhood and the other areas destroyed and devastated by the tornadoes in Oklahoma. You have a wonderful way with words that helped me understand your feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.

    I will continue to pray all the people affected by these storms.

    Celebrate you and your love of people
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

    1. I feel thankful when you say I have a way with words. I try to use them as tools to build a structure that readers can "see."

  3. Vivian, this is beautifully expressed. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the tornadoes. I know the helpless feeling you have when severe weather takes control of your live and home. And, it's only human to feel relief that you and your family are all safe.

  4. I discovered that putting what I'm experiencing, what I feel, what happens into words helps me deal with life better.