While at work on Wednesday morning, the sky clouded over and rain began lightly hitting my window.  It was cool outside, and nothing like the day before when weather forecasters had predicted that huge tornado-bearing supercells would form and cause massive damage over most of the Midwest.  We expected storms and even tornadoes on Tuesday, but they never came.  On Wednesday, though, we were almost caught unaware.

When the tornado sirens sounded, most of us kept working, despite the fear instilled in most of us by the continued news coverage of the massive devastation in Joplin.  Frequently, the city tests the tornado sirens on Wednesday mornings.  This just seemed like any other test.

On Saturday evening, I had awakened from a half-sleep and shook my husband awake.  We could barely hear tornado sirens sounding in the distance.  My husband shrugged and fell back asleep, but I immediately turned on the television.  Within minutes, the sirens were sounding locally.  I was prepared to grab my shoes and to wake Bear so we could go to the basement when the meteorologist explained that there were no tornado-producing storms over the metro.  Rather, a tornado had been sighted approximately 50 miles away and had just crossed into my county.  I got back into bed, and watched the news until the storms had passed over us with only a little wind and rain.

It is no wonder that sound of tornado sirens has lost its power over many of us.

About five minutes after the tornado sirens began sounding on Wednesday, a co-worker popped his head into my office.  This is the real thing.

What?  I grabbed my phone and my purse and followed the small crowd forming in the hallway.  We headed into the stairwell, and after a few minutes, our business manager burst through the outside door talking incoherently about how the post office had forced her to leave.  She began sobbing.  Her grandchildren had lost their house in Joplin.  Fortunately, they were not there at the time.

I called my husband.  Like the rest of us, he had continued working, oblivious to the situation.  He assured me that he would go somewhere safe, although others in his office opted to stay on their 20th-something floors and continue billing hours.

In the stairwell, we all began searching for news about what was going on.  I texted a teacher in Bear’s classroom at daycare.  I didn’t want to bother her, but I couldn’t imagine where they would take the kids, and I needed to know that Bear was OK.  I received a brief reply that everyone was OK, but then I heard that a tornado had been sighted about 30 blocks from Bear’s daycare.  Other reports indicated that other tornadoes had touched down elsewhere in the city, mostly a little Southwest from Bear, but then word came that tornadoes had been sighted near my home and apparently, were headed toward my office.

Employees of a bank on the first level of my building ushered us out of the stairwell and into a bank vault.  There, we all waited for something to happen.   Because cell phone service was not good, many of us had to leave the vault to get a signal, and every time I stepped outside, I searched for word from Bear’s daycare.

People worried aloud about their homes and their kids.  I realized in that moment, that I didn’t care if my home was destroyed, or sadly, if even my dog got blown away.   I only wanted to leave and pick up Bear so we could be together.  I needed to know that she was alright.

The next time I stepped outside the vault to check for messages, I discovered that Bear’s teacher had called.  The message was a little unclear, but I thought that she said that Bear had gotten hurt.  I quickly called her back, and when she answered, she explained that Bear was not hurt, but that she had gotten “ahold” of some crackers that they were using the placate the kids during the sirens, and these crackers had soy in them.  Oh, thank goodness.  Despite the exposure, Bear was happily drinking both milk and Benadryl, and they thought that she was OK.

I was relieved.  I can handle a food allergy.  And Bear was OK.  Although the sirens continued sounding, a weather report signaled that the tornado warning for our county had expired, and most of us went back to work.  The clouds above us had rotated, but fortunately, no tornadoes touched down near my office.

Later that day, as I drove to get Bear, I was amazed to see no damage at all, even in areas where a tornado had supposedly touched down.  When I picked up Bear, she seemed oblivious to what had happened, expect that she had a lot to say about the crackers she had eaten.  For a kid who gets very little processed food thanks to a soy allergy, she must have thought that those crackers were the best things she had ever eaten.  It was all she talked about that night, and I was thankful that she had been spared the fear that other older children must have felt when asked to crouch in a hallway.

I kissed her and held her that night with a perspective that I rarely have.  Still fresh in my mind are stories from Joplin about a little 16 month-old boy being ripped from his mother’s arms while they took shelter inside of a bathtub, or one told to me by a friend about her former classmate who took his two young boys on an errand to the Joplin Home Depot that Sunday and left his wife without a husband or her two precious children.

I cannot imagine.  We are so lucky.

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