I attended presbytery meetings today (the presbytery is the regional body of the Presbyterian Church (USA)). Our assembly meetings are held in Washington, Illinois, less than a quarter of a mile from where an F-4 tornado cut a swath of destruction through the city last November. The tornado was on the ground for 46 miles, caused the deaths of three people, and at least $800 million in damage. The last part of our day-long meeting consisted of an update on tornado recovery from Presbyterian Disaster Services, and two testimonials from people from Washington.
The first woman who spoke was a farmer from the edge of town, whose farm, barns, and sheds were completely destroyed. As were the six buildings across the road (what had once been her grandmother’s farm and had been in the family for several generations). They are beginning the slow process of rebuilding, but need to be patient, and wait for the land to dry – first the snow to melt – then the mud to dry – to clean the debris from the fields – they will be going through with a six foot magnet to try to remove the numerous nails that are in the fields, along with much else in debris fields small and large. She hopes they will be able to plant soy this year; they aren’t even going to try for corn. It was a powerful and sobering testimonial.
When the meeting ended, I decided to drive through the disaster area. While it did not look like what it did in November, as much of the piles of residential debris was cleaned up, it was a truly surreal experience. I drove past an elementary school and two nursing homes/care facilities,both undamaged, and then there were subdivisions – that looked like new neighborhoods going up. But then you’d notice there were roofs missing from houses, and others reduced to foundations. At one point there was a vacant lot with an American flag sticking out of the ground. It was a strange sense of new life, as people’s homes and neighborhoods were being rebuilt, surrounded by still many homes that were still in ruins.
I continued on, and came around a bend, seeing more of the swath of the destruction, and as I turned north towards US 24, I realized I was looking at a field, and saw a lone tree – the remains of it anyway – – and there was what had been those six buildings of the grandmother’s farm. I quickly turned to the left, and there was the brick shell of the woman’s home. It was pretty inconceivable really. And made her talk even more powerful in strange ways. I was struck by the power of nature, and how quickly it can turn the world upside down. It looked like what I’d imagine the aftermath of a nuclear blast would be. And yet, that family is determined to rebuild, and put their farm back to work.
I walk away from today’s meetings with a different perspective – and a sense of respect for the power of nature, and the power of the human spirit to overcome. In the weeks after the tornado, Washington began referring to itself as “Washington Strong” – and they certainly are.