As a girl growing up in Alabama, I thought I knew tornadoes. Drills in the school hallway were routine. Standard protocol at the sound of sirens was to grab a pillow before huddling in the hall bathroom at my family's home. I have seen their devastating damage firsthand, but witnessing the aftermath of the destruction that swept through Joplin, Missouri, in late May was utterly unfamiliar.
Leveled neighborhoods as far as you could see were indescribable. Trees stripped of their familiar bark now had steel contortioned among their limbs like pipe cleaners. There was the occasional semblance of "what once was" among the destruction -- kitchen tables still poised without kitchen walls, children's toys strewn on debris-cluttered lawns, the nativity set salvaged from the vestry. These are the physical marks that comingle with the grief and mourning for the shared loss of the tornado's death toll, the stories of miraculous survival, and the superhuman acts of rescue.