Freedom from Blog

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Where Are Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, and the Flying Cows?

So many tornadoes lately it feels like we're inhabiting reruns of Twister on TBS. How often do I have to blog on this? I guess I should just be thankful that I'm here--the whole family safe--to blog about this. Another close hit to our little Kincaid cottage, not as close as the last, but much scarier.

The Good Friday tornado cut a brutal path E/NE through the north side of town, wrecking hundreds of houses (42 destroyed in the city, 200+ more damaged) over 15 miles and killing a young mom and her baby daughter who were trying to get into their car as the winds hit. The dad is critical, along with several other people. At its closest point, it ran a mile and a half north of us, which is where that family lived. Lang and I drive near that house at least once a week. It is on the way to the greenway trailhead--also hit--where I take her to run, ooh at the puppies, and throw shells and rocks into the river. Luckily, I don't need to drive that way for anything more essential, so I can avoid the disaster zone. Too close for comfort nonetheless.

Wherever you live there's always something weather-related to fear. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Forrest fires. Mud slides. This is our hazard, and mostly we get used to it. April and May means making sure the dirt floor basement is ready for hunkering: batteries in the lantern and radio, a jug of water, a couple of plastic chairs. Most people around here don't have basements. We've got shallow soil over a hard rock base and a lot of quickie development from the last twenty-five years during which the town has roughly tripled to 100K. Not sure I could live in such a house. I'm a pretty chicken shit guy when it comes to physical dangers. No sky diving or storm chasing for me. When bad conditions loom, I'm instinctively calm but cautious. Now that I'm a father, however, I can't help but think of my girl first. Where is she, and is she safe? Seems silly to say it, like I'm writing for a B-movie. No basement at the sitter's where she goes a couple of days a week. Our sitter took Good Friday off to go boating, and Lang and Mrs. TMcD got to enjoy the pleasures of our dank little space underneath while I was in the cinderblock fortitude of my 1960s-vintage classroom building. They drove to get me during a lull, but the weather turned ominous again, and we all hunkered together in the windowless interior office for which I was unusually glad.

I wish I had something profound to say. There are greater tragedies than this one somewhere almost every single day. The headline of the DNJ ("RESURRECTION") was a tad "on the nose," as they say. Natural evils are a hard case for us Christians, harder than willed evil as Rousseau and Kant knew better than Augustine. I tend to think about such questions bottom-up, as is my station. Religion, as Kant held, is in part a "metaphysics of morals": to find God, we project transcendent significance upon our deepest commitments. (This is both religion's existential strength and its logical vulnerability.) The Stoics thought the fundamental moral truth was that reason was stronger than death, such that nothing external could "harm" a virtuous man. The Christian claim starts with similar simplicity, but replaces reason with love and virtue with faith: if love is our true knowledge of divinity, then death may bring suffering but neither can rob us of the humanity love bestows. Where there is love there is hope. For me, also relief, sadness, and anger. No Stoic, I.

To all those affected this holy week by suffering, explicable and not, my deepest condolences and heartfelt prayers.

Update: Apparently, early reports vastly understated the damage of what was an EF-4 tornado with winds reaching 170 mph over a 22 (!) mile path. The two patches of damage I've seen were eye-popping, and I haven't been anywhere near the worst stretch. Holy cow.


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