Posts Tagged ‘“Help Can’t Wait”’

“Help Can’t Wait” Haibun for Monday at dversepoets pub.

January 21, 2017

pleasant-grove-alabama-storm-damageThe prompt over at dversepoets pub is about waiting.  Since this haibun is about the issue of waiting for help…or not waiting….it fits in my estimation.

This memory is written in a Haibun form.  Haibun is a very ancient Japanese form used for travel notes and memoirs.  Usually a few paragraphs with a relating haiku at the end.  I have been playing around with this form for only a few months, but I find it fascinating.

Many thanks to Kanzen Sakura for introducing me to this lovely, dynamic form. 

Lady Nyo

(Sunday’s tornados  killed 18 people in south Georgia and north Florida, yesterday.  Rescue workers are still looking for missing people in the Georgia storms. The death count is expected to rise)


I remember the tornado in 1998, Hall County, Georgia that ripped through at dawn. I was safe down in Atlanta and caught the morning news report with a cup of coffee in my hand. Back then I attended the Meeting for Worship in Atlanta. Almost trembling, I stood and addressed the end of the Meeting about the tornado. The only response I got from the Meeting was “Help can wait”.

I turned to my neighbors in our rather poor SW Atlanta neighborhood. They gave from the heart. My ten year old son and I drove to Gainesville with my husband’s ‘newish’ truck, the one with a paper license plate on the back. We got lost, stopped at a Denny’s and when the waitress heard we came with supplies, she refused to take our money. We got lost again, looking for the Salvation Army site. An old man insisted we follow his truck to our destination.

We weren’t supposed to go into the tornado area, but as we were leaving Gainesville to go home, there stretched between two radio kiosks was a big yellow banner: “Help Can’t Wait”. The sky was azure blue with clipper-ship-clouds floating by, peace after a terrible storm. My son’s eyes were enormous as he turned to me. “Mom, God is speaking to us. Help can’t wait, those Quakers were wrong!”

That day was filled with miracles: the police never stopped our truck. Our license plate had blown off. They waved at us. We saw the total destruction of a Nature Hell- Bent on  a major disaster. We saw metal sides of trailers twisted like ribbons through denuded trees, baby strollers smashed on the side of the road, blue tarps over just about every house. Right next to total devastation were cows in a pasture peacefully grazing. Trees were gone, the landscape was a moon scape.   Small debris fires were everywhere. Porta Johns were everywhere. We found the hearts of total strangers open everywhere. Thirteen people died from that tornado in Hall County.

A month to the day another tornado hit a  wealthy  part of north Atlanta, neighborhoods where many  Quakers of the Meeting lived. They weren’t the working people of Hall County. These were the professors and lawyers, doctors and teachers, etc. of the Meeting. I wondered if ‘Help Can Wait’ applied to them.


Compassion, balance

Restored in the Human Heart

If we feel the pain


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016



April 24, 2009

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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