A year ago, my world changed. It didn’t change in a way that left me without a loved one or left me without a home. It didn’t change in a way that left me injured or incapacitated. But it changed my heart and my soul in ways hard to describe.
I saw broken homes, lives torn apart and people gone in an instant. I saw my neighbors hurting. I saw my community breaking. Tremendous loss and devastation stretched across my state. No, I wasn’t born in Alabama, but it’s my home now. And after last April, it will hold part of my heart forever.
I’ve read the anniversary stories. I’ve prayed for friends who lost everything and strangers who lost even more. My heart will always hold a crack in its exterior when I think about April 27, 2011.
I remember finding a tiny toddler shoe in a pile of twisted metal. I remember using saws to cut through gigantic trees casually lying across a car. I remember bringing a man food and water when he refused to leave his mangled trailer because it was his home and it was all he had. I remember seeing dogs without collars or owners. I remember seeing a home where five people died in a matter of minutes. One powerful wind and it was finished.
I remember posting news online from my closet early in the morning during the first warning. I remember barricading my dogs with pillows before I left my apartment that morning. I remember seeing giant steel power poles twisted on the ground as if they were bendable plastic. I remember seeing stuffed animals in trees and clothes in ditches.
Every April, I will remember these images and more. I will close my eyes and pray for these families. As long as I live, I will pray for them because this is something they will never get over. I lost nothing, and it’s something I will never get over.
But as I remember the images, the pain and the heartbreak, I also remember the good. Overwhelming good. I remember long lines at the volunteer headquarters. I remember restaurants donating food and neighbors grilling out. I remember political officials working together despite party lines. I remember the insurmountable pile of diabetes supplies that flooded my living room and the JDRF office.
I remember out-of-towners coming to help with their own equipment, famous people making large donations and strangers offering hugs, warm food and prayers. I remember seeing a kindness in mankind I hadn’t seen before. I remember feeling hopeful for this place I call home. I remember feeling incredibly fragile and incredibly loved at the same time.
I’m proud of my town, and I’m proud of my state. We are strong and we are resilient. We are family and we will survive. I loathe natural disasters, but when it happens, it does something to the community. It bonds the people together with a camaraderie incapable of words. Just ask communities like Nashville or New Orleans. I’m proud to call Huntsville home, and I’m proud to be an Alabamaian.
We are strong. We are proud. And we will recover. Today, I remember and I pray. Tomorrow, I will do the same. And the next day and the next.
This is my home, my sweet home Alabama.