It’s strange how the name of a character in a movie can resonate so differently among people. For some, it recalls Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, while for others it brings to mind tornadoes. And nothing but tornadoes.
As a child, I remember my cousins yelling “Auntie Em, Auntie Em, it’s a twister” each time the sirens went off, be it during the weekly noon drill on Monday or an actual sinister warning of what was headed our way. And each time I come across the movie Airplane, I laugh out loud when Johnny tangles himself in phone cords and yells “Uncle Henry, Auntie Em, Toto, it’s a twister, it’s a twister” (if you click on the link provided, that particular scene with Johnny is at the very end of the video, but it’s worth the wait if you are an Airplane fan).
Growing up in Kansas, you have to laugh. As a child of the midwest, you learn quickly how to read the clouds, become nervous when it’s humid, and understand the dew point readings. You know the place in your home that is safest to ride out a tornado, be it basement, bathtub, crawl space or closet. And you become a professional at packing a tornado kit each spring (blankets, batteries, jug or bottles of water, flashlights, extra batteries, battery operated radio, cell phone, non-perishable foods) to keep in your safe place, as well as the extra bag beside the bed that includes medications, important documents, and other keepsakes you don’t want to lose when all hell breaks loose.
Because that’s what it does, this tornado. It unleashes hell on earth. Just ask the survivors of Joplin, MO; Reading, KS; and Greensburg, KS. In one terrifying moment, all you’ve known, all you’ve worked for, all you’ve cared for is gone. Obliterated or vanished, it doesn’t matter because the end result is the same, life is changed.
A person from California once asked me how I could live in the midwest with “those tornadoes.” I asked how they could live with those earthquakes, after all we do get 20-30 minute warnings, sirens screaming to turn on your televisions or radios and take cover. We have Doppler radar and text message alerts, plus years of examining the sky and air and differentiating between a typical Kansas thunderstorm and an afternoon filled with foreboding. What do they have?
But in light of this year’s deadly twisters, I’m beginning to think all of our weather technology, early warnings, and personal weather experiences are not enough. When a half-mile wide tornado comes at you packing 200 mph winds, destruction is inevitable, survival is diminished.
But we are a resilient bunch. And I know the communities of Reading and Joplin will rebuild and move forward, just as the people of Greensburg.
And those of us out of the path of the storm will watch, pray, and cry for those who lost relatives, friends, and everything they possessed. We’ll check our tornado kits, monitor the local radars, and be sure and check on those we love, all the while knowing Joplin could have been and still could be us.