Over the past three weeks, I've been covering the tornadoes that devastated the South. It is not an exaggeration to say that the region has been torn apart by these storms, a fact that so many don't fully comprehend. It's difficult to realize the impact, even living in Birmingham, where storms ripped neighborhoods apart. The full story hasn't been told.
But I've seen it -- not just in Alabama, but in Tennessee, Georgia, and through my colleagues who have visited Mississippi and Arkansas. With my own eyes and through theirs I have seen the stories that many are neglecting to tell. All the while, other Southerners are suffering, as the Mississippi's water seeps into homes and businesses and towns. There are no words.
I have learned many things from covering these storms. Personally, it's brought me back to the true nature of reporting, of long, hard days underneath the sun, listening to people's inner most revelations -- their losses, their hopes, where they were when the tornado hit. Story after story of people huddling in bathtubs, in basements, and hall closets, praying that the storm would spare them and if not, that God would be there to take them home.
This is not my first time hearing stories about being on the edge of death. But it's the first time that I've heard person upon person talk about seeing their neighbors walk through the dark, injured and crying out for help after the freight train that ripped apart that night.
It's the first time I've heard so many people talk about digging friends out of rubble, placing elderly on 4x4s to get them medical aide, and of the wailing, the wailing from street to street. Of seeing day break the next day, roofs ripped away and lives forever changed.
I've learned again that things change in an instant. And that stories of help and hope are plenty, but they don't negate the reality of destruction and loss.
Perspective changing, of course. Not in the way that nearly being killed by a drunk driver changed my perspective, or my husband being treated for cancer changed my perspective. Driving past the gashes in the landscape, I'm ill. I worry about the children I've met who have nightmares from what they've witnessed. I have nightmares.
But I'm just someone who visits, who drives in and listens and drives out. I don't have the visions that the people who survived are faced with, day in, day out. It is my mission to listen, and help them tell their stories.
I've learned more about what's important. I can't pay much attention to Twitter disputes and missed social outings. People close offer support, especially my family and the friends that understand why I'm not around, and been absent for them. I'm coming back.
And will be telling positive stories for sure. They are all around. But for now, I have to acknowledge the sadness, and its impact. It's changed me.