A good friend and a good writer, Angie Cameron (whose website is on this blog to the right …) sent me an account of  a man in Murfreesboro, Tennessee who just ‘came through’ the Good Friday F-4 tornado only 10 days ago.  I’m going to post a part of this very long account here but I want to say something about this issue in general.  About tornados.

I don’t come from the South, but have now lived here most of my life. Only in the past 10 years or so have we seen an increase of tornadoes around Atlanta and through Atlanta.   Last year we had one that went right down the business center of our town, three miles north of us.  I don’t remember if anyone was killed, I don’t think so, but the damage was huge.

We have just passed Earth Day.  Angie’s sent article makes me reconsider what is happening with this issue of Global Warming so denied  in one section of our political life.

Each spring for at least 10 years the South gets hammered by tornadoes.  They sweep in from the west and do their damage and devastation.   If you see the results of a tornado, even just one time, you will never forget it.  After I post this man’s experience, I will write a little about my own in 1998.

“I checked my grip on the tree, and thought to myself, “Here she is!”  Immediately afterward,  I saw the wall of the tornado top the crest of the slope and slam into me. The sound was amazing, and the power incredible. Everything around me, including the ground, was shaking. I could feel my tree groaning as it was trying to leave the ground. The whole forest heaved. Debris was crashing all around me. Static electricity made my hair stand on end. I saw what appeared to be a house fly right over my head, past the river and off into the wild. Though I had curled myself around the tree, the tornado picked up my legs and extended my body into the wind. I suppose my adrenaline was working properly, because I never lost grip of the tree, even though my body was now off the ground flapping in the wind like a flag. I never thought I’d lose my grip; I was determined that I would not fail this test. I wanted to make God proud of me. I kept thinking that I needed to document the experience in my mind so I could help others. I never closed my eyes.

The front wall of the tornado was bad, but when it passed, I found myself in the strangest world I’ve ever seen. I was in the eye of the tornado, and I knew it. I dropped back to the ground and instinctively curled around the tree again. A lot of debris was still shooting across the river, firing across my line of sight like meteors. But now I also saw debris spiraling inside the vortex of the tornado.  Close to me, it was traveling at lightning speed, racing around and around just like you’d expect.  But farther up, along the inside of the funnel, the debris was moving slowly, gracefully, almost playfully at the top. It wasn’t circling; it was dancing, up and down more than from side to side. I don’t know how far up I could see, but it seemed like miles. A strange light illuminated the inside of the tornado. It was totally surreal. It was peaceful, calm, and, I hate to say it, incredibly happy. I fancied that angels were performing a ballet just for me at the top of heaven’s ladder.

So this is what’s inside a tornado, I remember thinking. It is not possible to describe the feelings you get in the eye of a tornado. There is such a mixture of primal feelings-blood pulsing, mouth drying, eyes focused, heart racing, muscles taut. Everything that has been you, in my case for 48 years, comes down to one infinite point and freezes; your breathing calms and your mind seems to step out of your body and look around in amazement. You notice the smallest details: a leaf blowing past, a small sound, the strange illumination inside the vortex. You watch the inside of the funnel as though you were watching a movie. There’s a strange sense of detachment.  And you feel, at the same time, both all alone and totally immersed in the love of God.  I mean that literally. In the eye of the storm, there is no one else, and as far as you can tell, the entire world is now gone. Nothing looks familiar, and you sense that you have already died and gone to heaven. The peace, the beauty, and the overwhelming view up the vortex above all lead you to feel an intimacy with God. I felt loved in the eye, and even now that feeling moves me to tears. It’s like going to heaven and seeing the book of Revelation. It’s like waking up in Alice’s Wonderland, Deep Space, and your mother’s womb all wrapped into one. There is no yesterday, no tomorrow, and no worries. Just peace, calm and incredible beauty. In the eye of the storm, you may not even be you any more.

To be in the eye of the tornado is unforgettable. I want to say to anyone who has lost a loved one to a tornado that, chances are, your loved one died far more peacefully than you think. Inside the storm the love of God is more intense than you can ever, ever, ever imagine. It is calm, peaceful, and overwhelmingly safe. Your loved one died in the loving arms of God, and I guarantee you that they knew it.  Being in the eye makes you thankful to God, and I remember murmuring some words of gratitude, at least in my heart, if not with my mouth. I was thankful for the three seconds-or was it an eternity?-that I spent in the eye of that storm.  Grateful, that is, until the back wall of the tornado hit me. The front of the tornado had been violent, but the back was even worse. Best I can tell, the front
of the tornado had picked up trees and broken off large branches. Now the back of the tornado began to drop them all around me. Debris was slamming everywhere. Though I had been in the tornado only 10 seconds or so, it already seemed like a long time. The peaceful feeling quickly dissipated; now I had to ride out the worst. I remember thinking, “almost over; hang on; you’re going to make it!” Meanwhile, stuff was dropping all around me. Two trees fell on me; I saw the first one coming. I remember thinking it was odd because it fell backwards away from the river. Most of the debris was flying across the river. “

This fellow is a minister of a congregation in Murfreesboro.  I find it fascinating  he survived this ordeal, just 10 days ago!, and especially this part of being in the eye of the storm.  The transforming peace he felt there would change a rock.

I had my own experience with a tornado on the first day of Spring, 1998.  I was safe in my home here in Atlanta, and for some reason watching the news at 7am.  A tornado, I believe another F-4, had come through Hall County, Gainesville, Ga. to the far north (60 miles away) just then, and I was rivetted to the tv.  Something in me snapped.  I still don’t know what or why, and why THAT particular tornado should effect me in such ways, but it did.  I had never been to Gainesville, and knew no one there.  But time stood still, was suspended, I do remember this, as my husband later pointed out to me.

I was a Quaker then, had been ‘bench sitting’ for about 10 years.  I was pretty rattled, and rose to speak about the tornado two days before, asking people to be ‘mindful’ of what had happened.  This Quaker meeting met in silence, so rising to speak better be important.  After the meeting, a man who I now understand was very troubled, came to me and said:  “Help can wait.”  What he meant, though he was rather dismissive in his words, was that the Friends Service of Atlanta would have to meet and decide the ‘level’ of participation.

I couldn’t wait.  Neither could my neighbors.  Within exactly a week we gathered so many supplies we could barely stuff them in my husband’s new truck.  My then 10 year old son and I went up to Gainesville, Ga. looking for the Salvation Army center to drop these supplies and leave.  We got lost, stopped at a Kangaroo Gas Station and immediately an elderly man came up to the truck and asked if we were lost (yes we were!) and took us to the place where supplies were being delivered.  We would never have found it ourselves.

I can’t begin to relate how many times this happened…not only getting lost! but the kindness of strangers up there.  We went to Denny’s for breakfast, my little son mentioning that we had just come from Atlanta was some supplies and the waitress refused to charge us for breakfast, insisting that she pay from her tips.

We were invited to observe the many areas  we shouldn’t be in.  We collected stories about the storm everywhere we stopped, and realized that people were still in shock.

But one thing stood out in our experience.  Something my son and I will never forget.  As we entered the lovely, old town of Gainesville, exactly one week to the day after this devestating tornado, with huge clouds like clipper ships in an azure blue sky, there on a hill, stretched between two radio kiosks, was a large yellow banner:

“Help Can’t Wait”.

My son turned to me, his brown eyes like saucers, and said: “Mom! God’s talking to us!”

Well, I’m not at all a religious person, and soon after left the Quaker Meeting.  But something was in the air that day and it wasn’t just the afterblow of the tornado.

We drove through areas  like landscapes from Hell.  Huge metal pieces from trailers  like ribbons twisted in the tops of huge oaks.  The landscape had piles of debris either scattered across fields, with piles burning, or not even yet touched by any clean up. A baby carriage was on the side of the road, backed by crushed and destroyed refrigerators and other unidentifiable debris.  Whole roofs had been torn off, and blue tarps met the blue sky in most neighborhoods.

Devastation all all around (the tornado was 1/2 mile wide and 12 miles long of travel) and there, across the road from these scenes from Hell, were cows chewing their cud.  Blessed calm and normalcy in the middle of destruction.

My husband’s truck was new, and the paper license plate had blown off somewhere…but the many police never stopped us, never questioned why were were going through those areas.  We met many people who told us that even after a week, their areas, their neighborhoods had not be touched by cleanup crews.  There was still no power if I remember right.

On the way home to Atlanta, I remember pulling over on the highway, being overcome by what we saw.  I couldn’t drive until I regained my senses.  But I do know that something had shifted in me…and something had been created in very profound ways in my son. We were both effected in ways that would manifest in our lives over the next few years.

I did write a long article about the experience, published in “Quaker Life”, a national publication.  That probably was the beginning of my writing ‘career’.

I am still frantic when I hear of tornadoes heading our way.  There is an old train track behind our property….and when a train comes through, if I don’t see it, and it’s spring, I have to check myself from heading down in the basement.  I know it’s probably silly, or maybe not, but I have set up a store of blankets and chairs in this questionable basement.

After you see the effects, the results of a tornado, nothing is ever secure and easy in your life.  You watch the sky, listen to the tv, and hope for the best.
Lady Nyo

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4 Responses to “Tornado”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    The thing I keep seeing with people in general (in our country) is how astounded we are when we are caught in a natural situation-one we can’t monitor or control. We have gotten so far from nature that we are shell-shocked when she makes a move.
    I am not trying to lesson the impact. In fact, you are supposed to be impacted when Nature decieds to change her position. In other countries where they have fewer luxuries and are more closely tied to the natural order of things they are just as hungry when the rain doesn’t come, or a tornado takes down their home. But they don’t ask “why me?” as if Nature had something personal in mind. (And I don’t mean you are asking that-I just hear it a lot). They don’t need counseling to understand why the hurricane went through their neighborhood.
    Nature shifts constantly. I think global warming is something we are going to have to deal with as soon as possible because things are changing.
    You are smart to keep supplies on hand. You are accepting that STUFF HAPPENS and when you are prepared for it, you can handle it a whole lot better.
    Another thing I have learned, thanks to my terrible experience losing my jobs and everything else- I am no longer attached to things. If a tornado comes along and wipes me out, I’ll be OK. I don’t have my life and identity wrapped up in how much stuff I’ve maanged to accumulate.
    Important things like birth certificates, marriage license, car titles, etc., are filed somwhere else -it’s a pain to get duplicates, but you get them. You can’t replace certain family pictures, etc., so don’t let them become more important than the people they respresent. When you find yourself in the middle of a hurricane or the eye of the tornado, you will hold on to getting through it alive.
    That’s the only important thing. Getting yourself and your loved ones through it.
    And when it’s over, yes by God, we need to help each other right away. Help CAN’T Wait. People are hungry and thirsty and beaten up and afraid…and lost. They need help. Having a meeting to see how “involved” a group should be is bullshit. Where is the compaasion?
    Oh, Jane, I’m glad you took your son and helped those people. Actions speak, and teach.


  2. ladynyo Says:


    I am so glad you weighed in on these issues. I have known you for quite awhile now, and you have always been a person of incredible sense and compassion. You have given me much personal guidance from your own life.

    Because of what has happened to you in your own is why you are able to detach from the material. I admire you for that: it would be a big issue for me…a crushing issue if flood or tornado or fire (the most likely) swept through and took everything..Being artists, painters and such, you deeply understand our attachment to these material things.

    But you are right. We are insulated in this country (also Canada….Mexico isn’t) from so much what the rest of the world experiences. War, WWII in Europe, etc…Africa, the Middle East…we have this attitude that it ‘can’t happen to us…”

    But when it does….you are damn right! We don’t need a committee to decide ‘whether’ we need to respond.

    Our hearts should tell that loudly enough. Why they don’t in some people…speaks to selfishness, narcissism and isolation of the spirit.

    That is why those words: “Help Can’t Wait” were such a shock to my son, to myself. We were told the exact opposite: “Help can wait.”.

    I also knew that this man who said that….was a deeply troubled man, with a history of causing conflict in the Quaker Meeting and in his life in general.

    But I still marvel that this rotten sentiment that we were definitely determined to bypass regardless how and whether these other Quakers shook their collective asses or not…could be answered in such an amazing way.

    “Help CAN’T Wait”…and that is the truth of the matter, which you pointed out so beautifully.

    And, for those people up there in Hall Country….it didn’t. The support and succoring that poured in from Mennonite, Salvation Army, just folk….proved that the heart and spirit led.

    Love you!


  3. Jonas Jonaitis Says:

    As my grandma used to say “O tempora, o mores!” – cannot use sarcasm over this.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Yup, I agree… “Oh! the times….Oh the morals!”….some things are too incredible…… to account sarcasm.

    This stood as one of these ‘beyond the pale’ events.

    Lady Nyo


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