Wood, metal, and shingles. Those are the three main categories of debris that we have gathered from our post-tornado monastery grounds. Then there are the subcategories. Painted and unpainted wood. Exterior and interior metal. Shingles in more speckled varieties than I thought possible.
Then there are smaller categories. Plastic. Glass. Sheetrock. And their subcategories of indoor and outdoor plastics. Clear and colored glass. Wallpapered and painted sheetrock.
And then there are the singular items that defy categorization. A child’s bicycle helmet. A junior high school yearbook. A spatula. A string of Christmas lights. A sofa pillow. Kitchen curtains strung in a tree. A decorative eagle, torn in half. A light switch cover. An insurance statement. A roll of red ribbon. A street sign from clear across town. A strand of beads. A picture frame. A torn novel, The Green Grass of Wyoming, lying in the green woods of Alabama. And so much more.
Our monastery structures were spared major tornado damage. But the tornado left on our lawns and in our woods the remains of structures that were not spared. Gathering the fragments of homes, garages, and businesses that landed on our lawn and sorting it loosely by type is like some kind of horrible exercise in Aristotelian categorization, the genus and species of tragedy. Yet picking up these pieces has been a deeply moving and humbling experience. Not only does one see at close range evidence of the force and strength of nature – splintered wood, bent nails, twisted metal, shredded shingles, all carried for who knows how far by fierce and mighty winds – but one is handling the treasured remains not just of houses and businesses, but of homes and livelihoods.
It has felt like a sacred duty, this task of collecting wood, metal, and shingles, the dispersed fragments of something that was once a singular whole – perhaps a home, a shop, a restaurant, a church, a dental office… I have gathered them not as shattered debris, but as fragments of homes and livelihoods. I have gathered them with reverence because I know that each fragment points to a person, a family, a narrative – a family without a home, a restaurateur without a stove, a dentist without tools, a lawyer without records, a grandmother without her favorite chair, a child without her bike helmet, a church family without their building, a locksmith whose locks have been blown away…
I have gathered the pieces with prayer for all whose homes and livelihoods were blown onto our grounds, praying that that which has been dispersed will be gathered, that which has been broken will be restored, and that fragmented and fractured lives will again be made whole, the pieces woven into a narrative of survival, of healing, of a wholeness that transcends categorization.
The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem,
gathers the dispersed of Israel,
Heals the broken hearted,
binds up their wounds,
Numbers all the stars,
calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord, vast in power,
with wisdom beyond measure.
(from Psalm 147)
Postscript: Our grounds are now fairly well cleared, with only the outskirts left to tidy up, thanks to the hard and heartfelt work of Sisters, staff, and volunteers.