There are times when a single word is used to denote the status of something really simple, like apples, or a visit from neighbors.
Then there are times when the same single word can change lives. Turn stomachs upside down. Cause hearts to skip beats.
I really learned this nearly six years ago when Hurricane Katrina changed the landscape of where I was born, raised, and learned how to be who I am.
And today I’m reminded of the power of the word "gone" as devastating tornados have ripped through so many states, including Alabama.
The city where my sister and her family lives has been almost completely decimated, and “gone” is the word I keep hearing in the news and reading online in references to the landmarks that have been the site for so many sweet memories Kim and Steve have made since moving to Cullman.
“Gone” is the word that was used to describe my little nephew’s barber shop after the first tornado hit Cullman yesterday, and “gone” is the word that is being repeated over and over as people worldwide comment on videos, photos and reports from Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and other states as a “super cell of tornadic activity” roars its frighteningly massive way across half our country.
A great description for a bad headache, weird noise in the night, that strange thing my hair sometimes does for no reason at all… Not so great when it comes to people’s homes, workplaces, creature comforts, transportation means, roadways, and livelihoods.
I still hear an empty echo ring in my own voice when someone asks me about “that library you always loved as a little girl – the one with the winding staircase,” and I have to shrug and tell them the status: “Oh yeah. That was the Gulfport Library. It’s gone.”
Same for Beauvoir.
Same for my grandparents’ original house.
Same for too many of my beloved Gulf Coast landmarks to even count, really.
I hate in a big way that now it will be the same for my sister and brother-in-law, and the sweet community they have been wrapped up in while they were growing their beautiful family. I also hate that there will always be an amount of fear for me when another storm heads to the Gulfport and Biloxi area, just like my nephew might have some adjusting to do when it rains in Cullman. (My fingers are crossed against this, obviously, but you never know.)
For the most part, I really hate the “gone” of it all. Post-tragedy, things are so messy, then so bare. They’re icky. They hurt to look at. They put a scar on something you didn’t even know the depth of your love for…till it was gone.
What I don’t hate is that “gone” now also applies to that tornado cluster on steroids. And the monster that was Hurricane Katrina, and the terrible earthquakes and tsunamis that so many of our international brothers and sisters have suffered through.
Those disasters were hellacious, but they are gone. We’ll have other scares in our lives, but those times, on those dates, with those circumstances can never come back.
Similarly, who I was on August 28, 2005 can never come back.
In some ways, that’s a little sad. The innocence of thinking Hurricane Camille before I was born was the worst thing that could’ve happened to my home was kind of nice.
But am I glad my ignorance for how it feels to see your hometown rubble from afar is now gone? Absolutely.
Do I miss the unintentional lack of empathy I had for people who went through natural disasters? No way.
I’m glad that is gone. I’m glad I can look at the shock and horror of what has happened to Tuscaloosa, and Smithville, MS, and north Georgia, and know a little of how those people are feeling. I’m thankful to know how to pray. I’m thankful my fellow Mississippi Coast natives – and so many others who’ve dealt with this mess – know what to do, and how to help, and even what to say or not say.
Gone isn’t always great, but it also isn’t always bad.
What can never – should never – be gone are our prayers for these disaster-ridden times and people.
Because there will be a day a few years from now, when everything is for the most part cleaned up, that some Alabama 34-year-old will go home to visit her parents, and desperately long to drive up to something that is now gone.
So let’s keep our empathy intact.
Some things, in spite of nature and time and forces stronger than us, will never be gone. They can't be, if we don’t let them leave.