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Strength of community

We live in the small village of Dexter, and if that rings a bell for some reason, it may be that you've seen us on the news lately.

On Thursday morning Calvin and I went to a play put on by our local theater group. It was the debut of a play written to spark interest in Michigan maritime history, and was about a family shipwrecked in Thunderbay in a dreadful November storm. Having lost their ship and all its cargo, the family, now ruined, is beside themselves with joy for having escaped with their lives. The show was very good, very well acted, and really tugged at the heartstrings.

Thursday in the afternoon Calvin and I practiced the piano, watered the seeds we'd started indoors, designed a "snack delivery system" to bring food from the kitchen to the sitting room (think zip line), and read a little on ancient Mesopotamian religions. Late in the afternoon we were coloring with chalk, and had just decided to take the dogs to the mailbox, when the rain started to come down lightly. We were still considering the mailbox when tornado sirens started going off. We spent the next hour or so in the corner of our basement with flashlights (no power) hearing intermittent strong gusts of wind and hail.

We were unscathed, and thankfully so, but over the first few minutes after we emerged from the basement, as power returned and the news started reporting, it became clear that not all of our little town was so lucky. Watching the news we could see whole streets of downed trees and two businesses were gone, and when they started showing images of a neighborhood with missing roof tops, second stories, even whole houses, we realized that the live footage was coming from the helicopter just outside our own window. The neighborhood right next door had been ravaged.

I've seen images of tornado stricken communities on TV, more so than ever in the past few years, and there are two thoughts that go through my head now. First, that I never believed it would happen here. Second, that there is a lot that those images cannot convey: like the smell that comes after a tornado, a smell of soggy paper, freshly cut wood, pine, electricity, and natural gas; or the extent of the debris, for even today we were finding in our own yard, nearly a half mile away, wood, plastic, insulation, and even people's personal items; or the extent of the damage, because even though only ("only") ten houses were gone or deemed unsafe, actually hundreds have considerable damage, and when standing in the streets the reach of the destruction seems enormous. No photograph can convey that.

Amazingly, thankfully, no lives were lost, and no serious injuries sustained. Many families lost the ship and the cargo, but all the families are still together.

I would never remark to someone who has lived through this on how thankful they must be for their lives, or that all the other stuff can be replaced. That is for them to say, and they will say it and feel it also, but in the days following, when the relief washes away, next there will be time to realize what has been lost, and not all of it can be replaced.

This afternoon Calvin and I put on heavy gloves and ragged clothes and walked across the street , trash bags in hand, to help our less fortunate neighbors. We were assigned to collecting debris from their neighborhood park. While I picked up pieces of glass and drywall, still in the color of someone's dining room or bedroom, Calvin kept to picking up shingles and splintered wood. Far more than building materials, though, it's the irreplaceable items we found that wrenched the heart: the baby book pages, crumpled and torn; the check, obtained and not yet cashed; the child's blanket way up high in a tree. I could not save the baby book, and the blanket was out of reach, but the check I brought home so I could track down its rightful owner. Another woman found a wedding photo in the gutter, posted a picture of it on the community Facebook page, and was ultimately connected with the owners, who had lost nearly everything else. Many of us lost nothing, but there's a feeling of shock and vulnerability that courses through the entire town, and everyone seems to feel the need to reach out and connect with others. There are only little things that we can do, but the whole community has come out to do them.

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