There are no Sirens for this Disaster

My Column for The Elgin Review 5.13.2020

I was fifteen when the tornado ripped through Omaha on May 6, 1975. The sky was an eerie green as I walked home from junior high. My mind that afternoon wasn’t on the sky but on my big plans for the evening. I’d been invited on a date with a high school boy to go to his end-of-the-year band banquet. It was my first “long-dress” date. Mother and I had been shopping and my dress was perfect for the occasion. I headed home to put pearly-pink Cutex polish on my fingernails and to use a curling iron on my long blonde hair.

I made it home but before the first coat of nail polish was dry, the restaurant where the banquet was to be held was demolished along with a swath of destruction right through the middle of the city. The tornado stopped just a couple miles south of our house. The miracle that day was despite it being one of the costliest tornados to strike anywhere in the United States, only three people died.

People paid heed to the sirens and took shelter and when the dust settled the community pulled together to help families and businesses rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Omaha, Nebraska made the national news while three families grieved their loved ones lost in the storm.

Our May skies this year have alternated between gun-metal gray and spirit-lifting blue. Perhaps if they were green or yellowish-brown or some other ominous, threatening shade, we would be doing a better job of preparing for disaster and heeding the warnings about Covid-19. Our warning sirens are not constantly sounding, and this disaster will not blow through and blow over in the course of one frightening afternoon. It’s one thing to take shelter for several hours when the sky is green and heavy.  It’s been entirely another to do so for two months in the spring. We’re itching for things to get back to normal. But this storm isn’t leaving only three casualties in its stealthy, silent wake.

Let’s talk about the death toll. As I write, ninety-six Nebraskans have died from this unfolding disaster. When this column goes to print, how many more will have died laboring to breathe in ICU beds far from their families? That’s ninety-six Huskers who are somebody’s father, somebody’s mother, somebody’s grandparent, somebody’s uncle, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s son. Gone.

It is up to each of us to protect one another from this storm. It is up to each of us to choose to heed the warnings, to stay away from each other, to miss the date we’ve dreamed of, to give up the big occasions, to pass on the parties and the gatherings for this season, and maybe longer. It’s up to each of us to maintain a minimum of six feet distance from one another. It’s up to each of us to choose to wear a mask, as ugly and uncomfortable as they are, every single time we’re out among others. My mask protects you and your mask protects me.

I know Nebraskans. I know we protect each other in a storm. I know we help each other take cover when ominous skies head our way. Think of Covid-19 like a big old, slow motion, EF-5 churning our way. This one isn’t going to be over any time soon, and it is going to leave an economic path of destruction. Let’s make sure it doesn’t take our loved ones with it, too.

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Worship is one way to seek refuge during life’s storms. If you would like to worship with Park Congregational United Church of Christ, you are always welcome to join us at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. Right now we are worshipping via Zoom. Contact me for the connection information. beckyzmcneil@gmail.com 402. 540-5615.

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