Yesterday morning I knew very little about tornadoes. But I spent today in the city of Springfield, the 3rd largest and poorest (as in receivership) city in my state. I couldn't believe the damage that took place in minutes.
I heard so many reports about the scary warning of seeing birds wildly darting in panicked directions, seeing a grey swirling funnel wild in its intensity, heading straight ahead with all its fury.
I drove along Union Street--it is a poor section of tiny single family homes and two or three unit houses, some with front porches--and I saw tree trunks as wide as a railroad car ripped from the ground, toppled onto missing roofs, so many trees and broken limbs on the ground everywhere; crumpled alumininum siding exposing what I think was asbetos shingles. I saw clean up crews and and bewildered residents staring from the sidewalks.
Honestly I hadn't thought that my clients would need to hear from me. I had a few clients scheduled to be seen, but the schools were closed and I figured everyone would know why if I didn't show up. But I got a few calls early on, "Where are you? Are you alright?" I could hear nervousness.
So by tonight I had called everyone. Everyone of every age, from 12 to 50, had been shocked to see a tornado coming, right there in the sky in front of them, to see the sky turn black and then yellow. M and her two children rushed home, out of the car, into their house, ran to the cellar, she who has had panic attacks anyway about imagined catastrophes and not being able to rescue her children. I asked her how she did in the rush of the moment.
"I was really afraid," she said.
"I can imagine," I said, "but how did you do?"
"Pretty good, actually."
"Good going," I said. "You handled it."
She paused a bit. "I did," she said, "Thank you, I did."
I talked to my 15 year old client, L. She was mighty scared.
"I heard it could be the end of the world," she told me.
She meant it.
"No, definitely not," I said. "The last time something like this happened in Springfield was 38 years ago. It's a fluke of nature, L, it may not happen again in your lifetime."
"Are you sure?" she asked me.
"Positive," I said.
I made a note to talk to her about this fear. She is a great kid and I love helping her make sense of the world.
And finally, my hardest and most inconsiderate client. She is 20, flunked out of high school last year, stands me up most of the time and lies about it, is clear that she doesn't and won't trust anyone and don't even try to ask her anything about herself or her life.
I read that her mother was a drug addict, that they were homeless for a long time, that she was taken in at age 12 by a foster mother who made a promise to someone--her grandmother maybe--to take care of her.
I called her on her cellphone, she never answers.
But she did.
"S, are you okay? Did you do okay in the tornado?"
I have never heard her sound like this: "I lost everything. Everything's gone. The house is gone."
She is veryscared. I can hear it. No bravado possible.
I tell her I am sorry. She can hardly hear me because the phone receptions are bad and she does not have electricity to charge her phone. I ask her to call me tomorrow. I want her to know I want her to.
She says she will. I will call her if she doesn't. Maybe this is how trust begins.
I missed all this yesterday, while I was in my own back yard on my day off in the midst of roaring thunder and heavy pelting rain, putting my chairs and birdhouses in the garage.
But I didn't miss it today.
Today I felt like a therapist, like someone who matters when things get too scary or overwhelming.
Today I felt like I'm doing a good job.
(epilogue: sigh of relief)