Saturday, May 14, 2011

how jessica does it

i met jessica five years ago as i ventured out to visit ryan, who was interning at boeing in alabama. i immediately knew we would get along and was so thrilled to be able to call the sweetest of southern belles a friend. we've kept in touch through the years via blogs, emails and christmas cards. she is witty and honest and grounded and kind. she is the mother of three of the cutest mini southern belles you will ever see, is married to ryan's twin separated at birth and is a budding photographer. seriously good stuff. 

here's how jessica does it...

There are some events in life that are felt deeply.  To write about them almost feels as though you’re trivializing the experience, as though posting on a blog could do any kind of justice to the event you’ve witnessed.  But I write for our family that spent time on their knees, the friends that continued to try calling despite the fact that they weren’t getting through, and most of all I write for my children.  No one expects a natural disaster like this.  You don’t know how bad it is until it actually hits.  You’ll spend the days afterward wondering and wondering some more. 

Last Wednesday our area (and our state) was hit by a series of tornadoes, the largest and deadliest outbreak in decades.  Our immediate area was hit by 13 tornadoes, some even earning the EF5 rating.  

And now, I write.

“I’d like the refugee special” I told the man at the sandwich counter.  He laughed with me as we both looked around the truck stop.  People from all around the region were flocking to the first town to rediscover electricity after days of darkness.  The gas lines (one containing our mini van) were lined up down the street.  The man next to me was mindlessly stroking his week old beard and talking with a friend.

“Did you hear about ____ road?  The police have it blocked off until the bodies can be removed.” he said.

“Did you hear about the 17 month old?” his friend replied.

I quietly ordered our food, the first “good” meal we’d seen in days.  Another man next to me stood up as his number was called for a hot shower.  All around me people were swapping stories, who was missing, whose house was gone, and when did anyone think power would be restored to the region.  It was comforting in a way to hear news and share information.  The last few days had felt like a vacuum- energy and information sucked out of life and leaving a small amount of chaos in its path.  I reflected again how strange it was that when you’re in the middle of a disaster the rest of the world knows what’s going on around you but you are left in the dark – literally and figuratively.  I thought about my journal entries of the last few days.

April 28, 2011
Dear Journal,
I suppose I must take a moment to write.  There are more preparations to make but I’m so tired all I really want to do is sleep.  They’re calling this one of the worst natural disasters in the history of  ________.  At least I think they are, the rest of the nation seems to know what’s going on here, it’s the people that live here that don’t.  I find that sadly amusing.

Yesterday we were hit by a series of storms, violent intense storms one after the other.  

There has been a lot of damage, a number of deaths, and now the entire north half of the state is without electricity or phones.  Cell phones aren’t working.  Nothing like being without electricity to discover how much you rely on it.  Nothing like being completely cut off from communication with the outside world to discover how much you depend on it.

Do you know how quiet it is?

Do you know how dark it can get at night?

Do you know you may actually be without power for the next 5 days?  Well, there goes all the food in my freezer.

I have so little information.  When I woke up this morning and discovered I still had a working radio, how eerie it was to hear there were no grocery stores open, no gas, no drug stores, nothing.  What you’ve got in your house is all you have so learn to make do.

I wish I had rotated the food in my 72 hour kits weeks ago when I had intended to.

I wish I had a car charger for my dead cell phone (not that I could get a call out anyway).

I wish I had a generator to run my freezer (or a small fridge).

I wish we had propane for the grill (because of course, we’re out).

I wish I knew where the camp stove was and how to work it.

I wish I had more food to prepare that didn’t require cooking.

I wish I had more batteries and more flashlights.

I wish I had more paper products (as I now have no dishwasher).

I wish most of all that Alex was here.

He’s on a business trip.  How I wished he were here as I watched the most threatening sky I’ve ever seen roll over my house.  I wished he were here as I huddled in the bathroom with my children and listened to the storm pound around us.  I wished he were here as I was going to sleep in the blackest black I’ve ever seen.  I miss him.

We’ve had lots of friends stop by to check on us this morning.  Never have I felt so blessed to be living so close to friends. 

There have been many who’ve suffered much in the last day.  I feel blessed that the Lord has watched over my family.  Hopefully we’ll get power back soon.

April 29, 2011
Dear Journal,
I’m afraid.  My heart has been racing for the last three days.  I’m still alone and conditions around here are deteriorating a bit.  Can it only have been 48 hours ago since we began to be bombarded by storms?  The last two days have stretched out so long.  Time seems to crawl.

I wouldn’t have guessed how unnerving life without power would be.  Electricity just affects the way you do everything.  It’s so dark at night.  I made Alex stay on the phone with me until I was almost asleep last night because I don’t feel safe anymore.  There have been reports of looters and groups canvassing the neighborhood at night.  People are starting to pull their weapons out of their safes.  The mayor has reminded everyone that they have a right to protect their homes. 

And Alex still isn’t home.

As the power plant that fuels most of this region was significantly damaged in the storms, expectations of having power restored gets pushed further and further back and all around us lies the damage and debris left by the series of tornadoes.  Many  people have lost everything.  I think the death toll for the state has risen above 200.  How my heart goes out to the families touched by tragedy.

A couple days into the storm, the mayor recommended that anyone that could leave should think about it.  We thought, and then we did, and we took some fellow refugees with us.
…People have asked what we have learned.  What did living through a natural disaster teach us? 

  • People panic quickly as soon as they learn they can’t get the necessities they’re used to.  The few stores that opened the day after the storm (and were running on generator power) were swamped instantly and left with empty shelves.   I don’t think I’ll ever forget these two pears a friend brought for me.  The last of the produce on the shelves. 
  • I was so grateful to have everything I really needed in the house.  I had no desperate “I’m out of diapers!!” moment.  We’ve stocked up on a lot of things; we had 72 hour kits prepared.  I felt incredible safety in knowing we were (generally) prepared for a day like this.
  •  I learned I had a lot of nice neighbors.  The morning after the storms, people came out on their front lawns in droves.  There were people I had never met before.  Families and friends met up and enjoyed the beautiful weather that followed the storm. 
  • No power means no stores, no gas, no pharmacies, no traffic lights, no internet, no recharging, no TV broadcasts – nothing.  Cell phone signals are unreliable.  Regular phone lines were down and the cell towers were swamped.  It was almost impossible to get calls in or out.  What you had was all you had and now, trust me, I know where all the holes in my preparedness lie. 
  • People didn’t know what time of day it was.  Many people rely on their phones or electric clocks to know the time.  The radio stations (the only connection we had to the outside world – heaven bless them) gave time checks periodically.  “OK, y’all, it’s 12:08.” 
  • I witnessed great goodness in people.  The way people have responded to those in need has been overwhelming.  The donations, the volunteers, the blood drives, and many many acts of kindness between strangers has been a great testament to the beautiful hearts in man.  We went to church in Florida and were amazed to see the congregation mobilizing to come to our aid.  My friend Sonja and I sat in Relief Society and wept.
I will never forget what others did for me.  From a friend bringing gas from his mower for my car in hopes of giving me the best chance for escape, to others inviting us over to cook out, to people checking in, to friends comforting in a time of need, I was blessed.  Truly blessed.

And the best moment?  (Aside from Alex coming home…. ) was Friday morning.  My house phone rang (you don’t know what a delicious sound that was!  A working phone!) and it was our neighbor calling to invite us over.  “Hey Sister Marsaw!  We’ve got the generator hooked up to the TV and we’re watching the Royal Wedding, come on over!!”  The Royal Wedding??!!  I had so been looking forward to it!  And now!  Now I could watch it!  And it was delightful.

Our hearts, thoughts, prayers, and energies go to those in our area who have lost everything.  How blessed we feel to live in an area where people take care of each other.  We have seen and felt much and thank our Father in Heaven who watched over our family.  He was truly with us in our time of need.  I believe what He said, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”


ed and kelli said...

jessica, this is amazing. first off, being husbandless while they are away on trips is horrible, i can't imagine a natural disaster happening during that time! and i have always know preparedness is important, but after reading this i realize my procrastination needs to stop now. thank you for getting my butt in gear!

Kim said...

Wow, amazing! Thank you for sharing your story. You are one incredible woman to get through that without your husband. You are a truly inspirational example of strength.

Shawnie said...

This was probably the most entertaining post I've read today. Thanks for taking all the time to write it out...what an experience.

Rob and Marseille said...

thanks for sharing your experience so that we can learn what things we might be forgetting so that we may be prepared too

Molly said...

Wow. That's all I can say. Sounds absolutely terrifying. I'm glad you and your family are safe. I am sending my husband out to buy 2 propane tanks tonight. We've been meaning to get some since Christmas...

Morgan said...

thank you so much for sharing your story!! i can't believe your husband was out of town! i would have died! so wonderful to hear about the goodness in people. thank you for also inspiring me to get moving a little faster on our emergency preparedness.

Jenny said...

I'm glad you shared this because I believe that we too often hear about these disasters from a distance, and as sad as we are and as much as we pray for the people who are affected by such disasters, we quickly move on...we can't comprehend what it's like because we aren't there. We move on with our "normal" lives and from time to time check back in because of the news or whatever. But you sharing your story like this puts a real perspective on it...and this has stuck with me ever since i read it. I didn't leave a comment before, but I keep thinking about it and feeling such gratitude. So, thank you. This post has deepened my level of feeling -- of compassion and sympathy -- but also my level of gratitude. I'm so glad to know that you and your family are ok and that you are surrounded by goodness in a time of devestation.

Laura said...

Wow, wow, wow. Thank you for sharing - I learned a lot from this meaningful post. How scary for Jessica to go through all of this without her husband! She is a woman of strength and courage. Thank you again for sharing - I will always remember it.

Jessica M said...

Thank you for the comments. Truly.