The Perfect Storm

Damage brought to community from tornadoes brings goals, objectives into perspective as new year dawns

People spend most of their lives fixating on trivial things like how big their house is, what kind of car they drive or what brand of clothes they wear. If we sit down and think about it, that materialistic search is what consumes most of our time and causes most of our stress.

What’s funny is how quickly all of that can be taken away.

On Dec. 26, a series of tornadoes ripped through the metroplex. Twelve people were killed in storms that stretched from Copeville to Rowlett and Garland. Millions of dollars worth of damage destroyed homes and ruined lives.

Several months ago, my family and I moved from the Garland/Rowlett border to Dallas. We lived just miles away from where much of the damage occurred. I woke up the day after the tornadoes and was stunned by just how much destruction had been brought upon my former home. I’m sure anyone who caught a glimpse of the aftermath felt the same.

Going out there, however, was different. Seeing the devastation firsthand was one of the most sobering experiences of my life. Homes that once stood as proud testaments to people’s lives’ work were reduced to mere piles of brick and glass. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Rowlett looked like London during the Blitz. It felt like I was walking through a war zone.

I felt a sense of uselessness while viewing this destruction. There were so many people that needed help and so much that needed to be done that it was impossible to figure out where to start. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must have felt like for the people that actually lived there.

During the cleanup, I quickly saw the way people were prioritizing the effort. Nobody cared if they lost TV’s or Playstations, they were more worried about whether or not their cats and dogs made it out alive. Family photos and mementos — which were easily scattered throughout the rubble — became more valuable than gold.

I also saw just how quickly people let down the barriers they held between one another. Complete strangers, no matter the race, religion or political affiliation, came together and bonded over their shared effort to help their fellow man.

Looking back on how people reacted to the destruction, I realized just how screwed up our priorities can be. So often our society teaches us that more is better and that to consume is to live. The house, the cars, the money, the status — that’s what we’re taught is important. That’s why we’re going to college, isn’t it? To eventually obtain all of those and claim them as our own.

But what happens when that is taken away from us? Some of the houses that were destroyed were all that people had. Everything that their owners had worked for — all of the hours they had put in — were wiped away in one chaotic instant.

I had a moment of clarity standing among those who had lost everything. Even in the midst of such profound destruction, they still stood up and found something more: each other.

Looking around, people could care less about the material items. All they cared about was that their family and loved ones were OK. What was even more astonishing was seeing people who had lost everything still be willing to give to others who were in need.

I realized that all that we think is important really isn’t. We spend so much time building up walls to form our own little bubbles and chasing our dreams of success that we often forget that all of the money in the world won’t save us. We forget that all of our treasures mean nothing by themselves; they only matter if we have people to share them with.

I also realized just how much time we spend dividing ourselves. Politics, race, religion and a slew of other useless barriers are so often used to make us feel like we’re different and, therefore, superior to others. Out in the streets of Rowlett, I saw that none of that mattered. It didn’t matter if you were black, white or Hispanic;  Christian, Muslim or Hindu. All that mattered is that you were willing to lend a helping hand.

As we enter into a new year that will be dominated by a presidential election, it’s important to remember just how short life is and just how much we have in common with complete strangers. There’re going to be many men and women on TV telling us how bad the “other side” is, but maybe that’s not true. At the end of the day, all anybody really wants is a roof over their heads, food in their bellies and for their families to be safe. That’s what real wealth is.

The storms that ripped through the metroplex have subsided and people must now deal with the reality of starting over. It will be harder for some than for others, but the people of towns like Rowlett will make it. They’re strong and proud and aren’t the type to give up.

What has yet to be seen is if we can weather the storms inside of all of us that make us lose focus on what’s really important. If we can’t get a grip on our priorities and fight for what really matters, the damage the tornadoes brought will be nothing compared to the damage in our hearts.

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