Does God get a good laugh watching us prepare our lives for an eternity we know is coming?
By George Valadie
An-ni-ver-sa-ry plural: anniversaries—1. The annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event, e.g., a wedding anniversary.
Happily, that’s most often the context in which we use the word, marking a festive occasion of our past, a celebration with food, family, friends, and the memory of someone’s joyful day.
But not always.
History also marks the anniversaries of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. History won’t remember, but I’ll always recall the day my mom died, and Nancy can tell you when hers passed away as well.
Around our house, we’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of the most recent tornado that destroyed a big old chunk of the city in which we live.
Thankfully, all we lost was power and two slats of an old wooden fence. But two streets over, all that was left were the two streets.
It was Easter Sunday night, 2020.
Nancy pays more attention to our weather than the local meteorologists. Right this minute, she can tell me the highs and lows of the next five days and if there’s anything freaky in the forecast.
She was all over it that night, too.
She knows all about Doppler and vortexes and whatever that hook echo thing means. We were in bed, watching the weather tracker tracking toward us when she asked, “Do you think we ought to go get in the bathroom?”
I’m usually a hard “no,” but for whatever reason, I agreed. And off we went—us and our black lab that did not understand vortexes, the hook, or why we were suddenly playing this stupid game at this ungodly hour.
We have a full bath attached to our bedroom, but we also have a half-bath on the same floor; it’s a lot smaller, and we knew enough to seek out the less spacious of the two.
As we walked the 15 feet to get there, we could suddenly hear debris banging up against the back of the house in a way we’d never heard before.
Don’t get me wrong, all total we were probably in there 15 minutes, if that; shortly thereafter, we were back in bed just before the power went out.
As daylight broke, aware only that a tornado had been near, we went to see what we could see. In a matter of a few hundred feet, we discovered the world had come down for many and on top of many. I’d never actually seen anything approaching that sort of destruction in such an up-close and personal way.
We never heard the train, but we could see the tracks.
Officially, the National Weather Service designated it an EF-3 tornado that hugged the ground for nine miles at a width of 15 football fields reaching wind speeds of 145 mph.
Two years later, and several of the neighborhoods are nowhere close to what they used to be. So not only do we recall the events of the past, but we also pay heed to the tornado season of the present.
Our eldest daughter and her family lived here then as well, but she, her family, and their home were all well removed from the storm’s path.
But her anxiety wasn’t.
So this year, vowing to be as prepared as they could, she has invested in what is referred to as a “safe room.” Apparently available from “tornado-shelters-r-us,” the company brought it, installed it, and temporarily soothed her fears.
With her having no basement available, she purchased three walls, a door, and a roof of quarter-inch steel plate, all boxed together and attached to and through their four-inch concrete garage floor with 14 pretty hefty looking bolts.
Step off a 4-by-5-foot spot in your living room, and you’ll see she purchased barely enough standing room for her family of four and their two small dogs. The specs say it’s built for six, but I’ve been in it, and if Nancy and I happen to be visiting, we’ll likely be lashing ourselves to the “six-point locking door” from the other side.
Some models advertise seating, but Katy says that costs more: “We only had enough to buy life.”
Rated for EF-5 winds of 250-plus mph, their new addition is providing her with a peace of mind that means a lot these days, especially if you get anxious and have two kids who get freaked out by any old rain.
I was a little bothered by the one-year warranty and even more worried that it excludes “acts of God,” which I believe would be an apt description of Mother Nature.
But she’s happy. And we’re happy for her.
I have to admit I don’t typically worry about such things—certainly not as much as I should. Even so, on our end of town, my daughter’s parents cannot afford such security. We didn’t even purchase an emergency generator, even though having lost power for a week should have been motivation enough.
The timeframe of Katy’s recent purchase roughly coincided with my wife’s decision to have our kitchen cabinets painted. Similar dollars, different priorities. What can I say? On the upside, it came with a lot of de-junking of the junk we’d been storing in those cabinets.
I happened to visit that half-bath we will inhabit during the next close call while the cabinet doors were all removed and sent off-site for refinishing.
And to my surprise, I found the one retractable dog leash I thought we’d lost years ago.
“Nanc, look here. I found this old dog leash I’ve been looking for everywhere. I almost broke down and bought one the other day cause he’s always getting tangled up in these others. I can’t imagine how it got in here?”
“Oh, I moved it in there after that tornado two years ago.”
“Why, might I ask?”
“Leave it right there. It’s so you can hold on to Gipper. I don’t want him to blow away.”
True story—that and a flashlight are how we have prepared for Tornado Season 2022.
In a similar way, I imagine God gets a good laugh—or perhaps it’s a good cry—watching us prepare our lives for an eternity we know is coming. His knowing He’s all we need, knowing we know that, too. Yet we cling to the wrong things or fail to get ready at all.
I wonder if He’s ever tempted to choke the free will right out of us?
Dear God—You died—literally and voluntarily—so we could someday be with you. May we enjoy the journey without losing sight of the path. Amen.
George Valadie resides in Chattanooga and is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church.