As the storms rolled through Tennessee on the morning of April 27, I was one of those who watched as I saw trees and other items around my farm become like seeds in a dandelion caught in a wind move across the landscape. Luckily my damage was minor, but others around the Volunteer state didn’t fair as well.
The first storm that hit in my area was before good light and the only item I could really see destroyed was my patio umbrella that now resembled a bat that had lost its sonar capabilities in a very narrow tunnel. But, as first light arrived I soon saw the storm had taken revenge on tree limbs and trees. As the weather radio continued to blare out warnings, I was reminded of an old story about a plane that was caught in some of the storms that had plagued the country a few years back. It seems the airliner was involved big-time in a thunderstorm that had the passengers really frightened and concerned for their lives, just like I was at 5:30 a.m. on the morning of April 27.
A young lady sitting by a preacher who was quietly reading his Bible, had reached the point of total panic and was looking for any help she could get to make the storm stop. She turned to the preacher and asked him, “Preacher. You’re a man of God, can’t you get Him to make the storm stop?”
The preacher closed his Bible, folded his reading glasses and answered the young lady in as calming and reassuring voice as he could and said, “Madam, I know your concern, but you must understand that I’m in sales, not management.”
Just like that preacher, the night before the storm, I had been involved in talking to management. During a gospel meeting at our church, I had offered a congregational prayer asking for protection during the next predicted storm period coming our way. As I picked up the remains of the umbrella on my back porch, I was reminded of that prayer and how that umbrella could just as easily have been me instead of an ugly green jumble of metal if the wind had hit my house just a little differently. Of course I offered my thanks that morning, which too often I forget to do. Sometimes it takes crumpled umbrellas to get our attention.
Still thinking everything had come out pretty good, I prepared to head to work as my cell phone began to ring. It was my son calling to tell me he had a tree on his house and also on a car. I headed to his house dodging downed trees and debris in the rain. When I reached his street, it had the appearance of a small war zone and a fairly large tree rested in the middle of his yard and on his mother-in-law’s car. If that tree had just moved a few feet one way, it would have come down in the middle of my 2-year old granddaughter’s bedroom where she was sleeping. The good part of this story is the tree, with another twist of the wind, fell in a different direction. Once again, I gave thanks for help during the night.
I’ll never forget being in Jackson, Tennessee in May 2003 when a tornado went through there and later that night watching the news coverage of the devastation in that West Tennessee town. I was impressed with the comments of one young lady who had just seen her home totally destroyed.
A news reporter asked the lady what she was going to do since she had lost everything she and her husband had worked for and owned. Somewhat in shock, but still able to manage a smile she answered his question by saying, “It’s just stuff.”
She slowly walked from the camera and then stopped and continued to say, “We can get more stuff, but we have our lives and each other. I’m the most blessed person in the world today because I was given another chance for tomorrow as well as the rest of my family. Other people around here are not that fortunate. It was just stuff.”
Seeing that tree oh so close to my granddaughter’s room made me understand even more what that West Tennessee lady was saying way back then. I spent that morning using a chainsaw cutting the tree up into pieces to be carried away and removed it from “just stuff.” The continuous singing of chainsaws running along with the beeping of heavy emergency equipment backing up in a neighborhood that usually contains the sounds of children playing, can give you a different understanding for what is important.
It is amazing that it takes a major catastrophe to get our attention about what is really important on this earth we share with others. Our stuff will come and go, but family, friends and others are what this life is all about.
Maybe we all should get into sales like the preacher and let management take care of the rest. Just like the lady in Jackson said, it is just stuff.
– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org