Today the world exploded in Moore, Oklahoma. It is that time of the year. Things like this happen in that corner of the world. It doesn’t make it any easier to prepare for and it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the aftermath. There are platitudes about hugging your loved ones tighter and not taking anything for granted, but those are cold comfort when it is your child who does not come home…when they were kept at school because the officials felt like the school building would be safer than the bus.
I do not know how you even begin to deal with that special hell if you’re a parent. With an elementary school having taken a direct hit, I don’t know how you wait for news. And I don’t know what you do if you get the news that no one ever wants to have.
We aren’t parents yet…and we may never be, although, I hope that isn’t our fate…and there are days like today when I am glad that we are not parents. Parents who sent our children off to school this morning expecting something like Field Day because it’s near the end of the school year. Parents who trusted that our babies would be safe at school today because they’ve practiced the drill and they know what to do. Parents who were then left to wait and wonder, with some of them to face a devastation that losing all your possessions can’t even begin to touch. And today…I’m glad that isn’t something I have to worry about because I don’t know how they will do it. I don’t know how they won’t just lay down and give up. What is left?
I’ve written about it before, but one of my only vivid memories from childhood involves a tornado and buses and the end of a school day. I don’t remember much of my childhood, but I remember that afternoon.
I must have been in 3rd grade.
It was the end of the day. We’d all just been dismissed to go out and get on the buses. The high school and junior high kids were already on the buses. Our teachers got us through the door in a somewhat orderly fashion before they stepped aside and let us race to the door of our bus where a driver would snap the door shut to slow us down, gradually opening it while barking to “Take it easy! Take. It. Easy.”
We’d just gotten settled in and the engines of the older buses were groaning to life. Just as the first bus started to pull away from our tiny school, Mrs. Stepp, the elementary school principal came flying out of the double doors near the old stone gym. Mrs. Stepp was an older woman, heavier set, given to wearing sensible gaberdine suits she made. Always solid, dark colors. That day it was a navy suit.
And she came flying down the sidewalk, screaming, “Stop the buses! Stop the buses!” And the next thing we knew, we were rushing back into the school, sliding through the hallways to our classrooms and dropping to our knees, so we could touch our foreheads to floors covered with a day’s grime and debris. As we were running back into the building, we didn’t have time to panic. And when we first got into place, we were still to frightened to do anything.
But then we heard the roar, which triggered the crying and the memory that Chanda had walked home and what about John who lived across the street? Little voices cried across the hall, screaming names and asking about them. And we stayed there, wondering, crying, and afraid. Eventually we could get out of the disaster position. Some teachers had snacks for their students. Others brought out the crayons and the coloring books.
We passed an hour or so before parents began arriving and we go to go home. My grandfather came to bring my brother and I home. We didn’t tell anyone about the cookies or the conversations. Because we didn’t need to.
And that’s what I remember about school and tornadoes. Terrible, frightening moments. I know a little of what those poor children faced. But I got to come home. Many today did not, and I weep for them. Peace and comfort to their families.