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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Encounter with the Tornado

Being sick and in Memphis, I write you. Both of these situations being highly congruent towards a certain style of misery, I mope about the hotel. Whatever hotel I happen to be in. Last night's hotel we were all kicked out of. Yes, I was here when the storms smacked the city, coughing and wondering just how serious to take all the tornado warning precautions.

I've seen much damage of tornadoes in my lifetime. I've seen a waterspout or two. And maybe once witnessed a midgie twister. But I've never laid eyes on a full-scale monster of funnel-cloud with its tantrums. -That is until Tuesday night. I was in Southaven, Mississippi...just a stone's throw south of Memphis. Literally on the stateline. Statelined Rd to be precise.

It must have been about 5:30, the light gray sky of the day was shifting into the darker gray sky of twilight. I lay on my bed in my hotel room, the drapes of the window thrown back, to allow this dull grayness alone to illuminate my room. With half-open lids, I laid there. I was tired. My work for the day was decent enough, but I had this cold and decided to just lay there and watch as the lightning occassionally zigzagged across the sky. Before this, I had the TV on watching the weather and the primaries. They were suggesting everyone in the area to get down in a basement and stay away from glass. I was on the 3rd floor of a Holiday Inn Express. Still laying there liking my bed more than some room crammed with strangers.

The lights and power cut off, and I lay in this semi darkness, the darkening grayness enveloping the entire room, with here and there a flash of bright lightning. I love lightning. There's something wholly awesome and rare about it. But apart from thinking about lightning, my mind drifted into the proclaimed danger of this storm. In true dramatic fashion, I began to ponder the possibility of death. And yet, I felt oddly indifferent. There was no terror, nor alarm. Why was I so resigned? "Am I being suicidal?" I thought. "No, I think life is wonderful. It's just I'm not..." and I couldn't think of why I was so apathetic towards dying. I can't really say it was because of some holy longing to see God, either. At least not at this point. I was in no great spiritual frame of mind. But I think it had to do more with just being very curious about it all. Where do we really go? What is it like to die? What a quest, what curiosity...and it had to be more interesting than staying in the same hotels, eating the same dinners, and reading the same kinds of books. Looking back,it must have been the cold I have. You know how it is, sickness can turn ones mind very listless and sometimes morbid.

My head laid back across my pillow when I saw out the window what looked to be a entire swarm of bats flying. I leaned forward and realized that those were not bats but particles of roofs and shingles, etc. being swept in this giant whirlwind. It was massive and it was only a couple of blocks away. I sat upright, marveling at this beast. I could see it turn and whip, strut and prance, as it mowed through the trees. Was it coming for me? Which way was it churning? I sat on the edge of my bed my jaw dropped. From the 3rd story, I had a pretty spectacular view. I saw the cyclone whip its fury across some trees. Then stomp into something that made fire explode. Powerlines. One blaze was so large and lasted for a few seconds that I thought a wild fire was about to break out. All the while, I kept wondering if I should throw on my pants and run downstairs. But I didn't want to move. I wanted to see it. Besides, it was traveling parallel to me.

The fire blew out but the gustful giant kept steadily marching further into these trees and small buildings. Here and there another bright orange flame danced about. I began to pray the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner." Again, not necessarily because I felt terrified of it killing me. But more so the result of that, that if it did was I really ready to see God? Was my soul prepared? In great wonder more than terror I sat on my bed in my boxers, eyes not taking off for a second the whirlwind. And as I repeated this one-phrase prayer...I changed the "have mercy on me"..to "have mercy on them" the people that could very well be in its direct path. How selfish of me. I saw clearly it was not coming directly to me, but it was most certainly going to trample on someone. I watched as it continued in its wrathful path further and further away. Seeing it was gone, I felt a new vivacity from my feverish self. Again, a curiosity to see how many other people saw just what I saw. What did our street look like? I threw on my pants, a coat, and my shoes and ran down the dark, dark hallway and the stairs til I go to the lobby.

There was an entire congregation of people assembled here all talking about it. Some people had seen it. Those few who were in the glass patio near the pool. But they didn't see the fires or much detail them being on the ground floor. There was this round old man sitting in a chair munching on a barbeque rib. He was talking to someone and he caught a glance at me and said laughingly, "I bet it kind of makes you want to cut your long hair so it doesn't stand on end! Ha!Ha!"
I wanted to snap back at him, "What the hell does my hair have to do with this tornado? If anything it makes one not give a damn about one's hair." But all that came out was a grin with a congenial mumble that I didn't think he understood. He continued munching on his rib. And eventually offered me one. I turned it down feeling that all I wanted to eat was some soup. I think I almost made a friend then. But I left and went outside. A crowd was assembled there as well. Sirens were wailing. Bright flashes of blue and red whirling down the road. The smell of chaotic rain.

I walked around knowing this wasn't good for my cold. But I had never seen the sky lit up like it was. Everything had this incandescent blue light to it. It was right at twilight and shifting through the dark gray clouds above I saw almost what looked like a window appear and this peak of electic cerulean shone through it and illuminated everything below in its vibrant sweep of cerulean blue. I stood there marveling at this, noticing all the power on this entire street was knocked out. Occassionally I would start coughing badly and then I finally retreated back into my room.

I was a little hungry. And I couldn't do anything in my room but lay there. So I went down to the next exit where there were lights and the people were carrying on as though nothing had happened. Of course, walking into the restaraunts and the lobbies there...everyone was talking about the tornadoes. On every TV station the weather was being covered. They showed footage of the tornadoes. And everyone of them didn't match my view of it. I wish I had had a video camera in my room with me. I spent hours away at this exit. Hanging out in other hotel lobbies reading, checking email, talking on the phone. When I finally decided to go to sleep in my room. I figured that the power might be back on. But no...as I passed it the road was blocked off. So I went back to these hotel lobbies killing time..really yearning to lie in bed again. I needed the sleep. A little after midnight, I went back. The lights on the entire exit were still out. The road was still blocked. I asked the policeman how much longer until I could get to my room. He said that my hotel had told everyone to find other places to stay for the night and he let me go and collect my luggage.

A hotel is threatening when completely dark and deserted. Luckily, the owner, a rotund Indian man, was there with a flashlight. So I borrowed his light wandered up to the 3rd story with this lone light flying about the darkened hallway as I tried to block out any recollection of horror movies that involve hotels. I got my stuff and found within minutes a room at a crappy Motel 6. But at least their lights and electricity were working. I didn't feel like sleeping. I took a shower and continued reading and eventually went to sleep. When I awoke the next morning my cold was so bad, I sounded like I had been hit by a tornado. I'm slowly getting better...but I could've fared much worse.


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