The Tornado Realization
Yesterday I got a chance to go over all of the Dayton Daily News' material about the Xenia Tornado back in 1974. I was astonished to find myself getting very scared and anxious, particularly since I always enjoyed watching reruns of the Walter Cronkite tornado special coverage when I was a kid. It was kinda spooky, and we all got quiet, and we all took it seriously -- but we were more excited about remembering that day than anxious. Now I feel fear and terrible sorrow. What has changed?
It's not something you can forget. One of the Weather Channel reporters today said that there was no reminder of events in Xenia besides a memorial on the courthouse lawn. She didn't know what she was saying. Every rebuilt building in Xenia screams its origins to a local eye. The whole look of the town was changed forever. Streets lined with big, graceful old houses and huge old trees were suddenly bare lots full of rubble. Around the center of town, almost every building was destroyed except the massive Victorian stone courthouse and the bits of the main street in its lee. I can't help but remember every time I come into town down Route 35. But obviously, things were a lot closer back x-many years ago, and I was quite calm then.
First off, I think a lot of my 9/11 feelings are bleeding onto the tornado. They are pretty much tied together in my mind as "the worst things that ever happened". Frankly, there was nothing I could compare 9/11 to but the tornado devastation. One reaped a warlike swathe of destruction three city blocks wide across an entire city; one did the same thing upward into the sky, in an area where there was greater population density. The major difference is that the tornado wasn't an act of human malice. But in both cases, it changed towns and people forever. Nor am I the only person to recognize this tie. On 9/11, as with every other major disaster since the tornado, Red Cross disaster teams from Xenia set out for New York within hours. It is an obligation to help as they were helped.
That leads me to the second point. A lot of the tornado retro-coverage leaves me with a terrible sense of urgency to do something. But there isn't anywhere for all those feelings to go, because there isn't any danger at the moment. I have to learn to put those feelings away, because they aren't very useful. It might really turn out that I'll have to avoid watching old tornado footage for my blood pressure's sake.
There have been several very serious tornado warnings I've been in since then. Probably the most serious ones were when I was at summer camp at Fort Scott as a kid and the sky turned greeny-yellow, and when I was out at Pennsic without more shelter than a ditch as the clouds whirled above us. There was also the time I was at college within a mile of a tornado and most of my dorm wanted to stay outside and watch, the time I was at a local funeral home and we had to hide in the basement with the coffins, a couple bad tornado warnings at work when we all milled around in the canteen, and the night when everyone else in the apartment building was asleep when the warnings started and I had to wake them up to send them down to the basement.
When real tornadoes are coming, I don't feel this upset. I am consumed with a feeling of excitement and urgency as I go about getting to the basement or alerting people that they should get moving, but it's more a cheerful excitement than scary. The only time I really get frightened and anxious is when I'm telling people that they should get moving and they don't take it seriously enough. Then I do get upset. I react in one of two ways: either I get into the command voice, or I calmly and carefully explain why they should do what I say while ever-increasing fear goes up my spine. Once I get people to move, or conclude that they are hopeless idiots and I've done all I can for them, then I feel relief from the fear.
Which leads me to my final realization. I had a big huge argument earlier this year with one of my friends who was doing something that was both stupid and a serious sin. I could understand my anger and other emotions, but I couldn't understand my terrible clawing roil of anxiety, urgency, and fear. Now I do. It was exactly the same way I feel when I'm trying to warn people that a tornado is coming and they won't listen.
What I needed to do was to recognize where I was emotionally so that I could clear myself some thinking room. Instead, I lost my temper. I didn't lose my temper at the people at Pennsic who were gawking at the sky instead of finding some kind of cover, even though I did lose my temper at the stupid people in college. I kept my head and found them a reason to move, and it worked. In a less urgent but more frustrating situation, I didn't lose my temper at the lady at Pennsic who didn't believe in "artificial" medicines and whose daughter had poison ivy, No, I kept my temper, tried to persuade her to seek medical help for the kid, and then found her her precious natural remedy, so that at least her daughter got some relief.
(In case you're wondering what I used, it was jewelweed. The picture here is pretty good, but it still doesn't really show the general look of the plant; this page gives you a much better idea of what to look for, and also explains the mystery of what's edible about jewelweed (the seeds inside their seedpods in the fall). The leaves look very bright green in the woods because of their waterproof coating. Remember the orange flowers, at any rate; they bloom through large bits of the summer. So if you ever run into poison ivy in the woods, look for jewelweed. They grow in the same kinds of places, and all you have to do is crush the leaves and rub them on the itchy bits to get some relief or actually prevent getting poison ivy at all. That lady made a leaf poultice or something, which was more concentrated. Apparently, some folks have made all kinds of jewelweed medicines. I haven't tried these, but suspect the hype on this site is justified, as jewelweed really does work well and fast against poison ivy. But note the warnings, especially those against internal use. If you were stupid enough to eat or breathe poison ivy, jewelweed isn't gonna help you.)