Expert Commentary: The Children of Disaster

I live in Old Newburgh. That means my home and life were spared by the recent tornado. As I pass the disaster zone down the street, I realize how horrendous a ten second storm can be. As we look into communities from forbidden streets, we see the rubble, the disturbed lives, the heartache of destruction, and we gasp – Thank God.


It narrowly missed my daughter's home, and as it ripped through various places in town it zigzagged across the town taking down landmarks and memories. "Susan used to live there," said one daughter, and "Jennifer used to live there," said another. I was glad TV was not available for two days. I remember most of those subdivisions being built, and I don't want to see them ruined. I will be glad to watch them being built again, however.


Yet aside from some traffic problems, most of our lives haven't really changed much, and for most of our children at school, it hasn't really changed either, we are still coming and going at the same times, we sleep in our own beds, and wear our favorite clothes, yet somehow the stress attached to what has happened is bursting among nearly everyone. Children, parents and coworkers seem on edge, upset, not feeling like their normal selves, and it's remarkable how that stress is taking its toll on the little community at school.


The children are fighting, kicking, bursting into tears and biting one another in an effort to say that which cannot be said. "I'm scared. It's over and I'm still scared. Help me, promise me, hold me." One little girl asked her mother, "Will I grow up to be old?" Her mother explained to her that it was God's Will, not hers. It seemed to satisfy this ultra bright little girl.


Yet that is the hub of the unspeakable. "Will I continue to live while other children die and what about the next time, will there be a next time?" Children really can't articulate these questions, but they do understand the sense of helplessness, and they are crying out. As adults, we know we are all helpless in our life struggle. As we put in our days, who is to say what is around the corner? Normally, we take on life as it comes, but when something as catastrophic as the storm seems to be, we realize with some distress just how fragile it all is.


From teachers there are the long sighs, the blank stares, the "What are we supposed to be doing now" statements that never come in ordinary time. We all seem to be biding our time while it "blows over." And yet we know people who died and people who lived at what seems the whim of weather right up the street. We are trying to make it an important time, a time of reflection, a time of grief and a time to hug a warm child.


Today, I had a lovely talk with a Japanese family about weather. There were many stumbles across the language barrier. Worried looks translated into pleas for help. This lovely family is very concerned about what seems monstrous to them - tornadoes and they asked about our building and where we take shelter, and how often we get storms like that. When I mentioned that we are in one of the worst earth quake zones in the world, a lot like Japan , I thought the poor man would pass out.


It's inordinately hot, and as the summer hangs on, and the leaves finally begin to change at what seems ages since Halloween, it hardly seems like fall. The Thanksgiving play is right around the corner, and half the children are learning their lines in short clothes. As they sing their funny little songs, they find anything more than play practice hateful. Classroom time is an act of frustration and tears where laugher and success have been and we wonder if it could be storm based.


They aren't eating much, and they are hungry for sweets and treats. Sweets for kids are a gesture of love. Sweets are easily consumed. There is no bargaining with sweet delights. There is no panic about eating them, and they provide the energy needed just to be kids.


The last two days have dragged on miserably. It makes me want to embrace parents and remind them to treasure the little things in life that are so important because suddenly, it could all be gone. We're going to take it slow, love the kids more, and plan some different games and activities, so when the storm really blows over, there will be some good memories.