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Memories of tornado affect virus perspective

Sunday, April 26, 2020
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Memories are strange things.

Our brains store so many of them, more than we could ever consciously call to mind. But under the right conditions, they’ll come surging back, whether you want them or not.

There are a lot of memories from my experience with Ruston’s big 2019 tornado, of which we mark the one-year anniversary this weekend, that I haven’t particularly been trying to preserve.

But all it takes is a familiar experience for all those memories to come flooding right back in.

We had one of those on Easter Sunday, as severe weather struck the region and spawned tornadoes that miraculously dodged Ruston, damaging nearby areas like Monroe and Arcadia.

As my wife and I crouched in our bedroom closet for about half an hour that morning, watching our one remaining backyard tree through the window to gauge how hard it was swaying, I couldn’t help but remember the scene from last time.

Our backyard at about 2:30 that morning of April 25, 2019 was practically inaccessible thanks to several downed trees. When we stepped out the front door onto Evans Street, only during lightning flashes could we truly see the mangled maze of power lines and limbs separating us from the north side of the street, where we only later learned that Kendra and Remington Butler had lost their lives.

Those are the images I couldn’t help but picture this Easter morning. And when I looked at my wife, it was evident that the fear she battled for months after the tornado, the anxiety I had hoped was finally gone for good, had returned in that moment.

I can’t speak for her, but for me it wasn’t really the damage itself that made those sights from the morning of April 25, 2019 so frightening.

It was the fact that they signaled a colossal disruption of what had previously been normal. It was seeing the familiarity of everyday life, and the sense of safety and wellbeing that goes along with it, abruptly disappear in an instant, with no idea when it might return.

In a more subtle but perhaps more sinister way, that’s the same situation we all face during the current coronavirus outbreak. “Normal” is gone. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring. Even something as everyday as casually eating dinner with a group of friends seems like ancient history.

In the aftermath of last year’s tornado, we heard endless reports of the community coming together to mourn, heal and rebuild. But by the very nature of this current threat, we literally can’t come together.

It makes me wonder what kind of memories will flood back to the surface in years to come when I think of 2020.

But I’m reminded of how I closed my post-tornado column on this page a year ago, by saying that despite the devastation, not all of my memories of that event will be bad ones, thanks to the outpouring of love and support from the Ruston and Lincoln Parish community.

And while that has to look a lot different this time around, our community is still rising to the occasion.

Local governments and frontline workers are giving their all to make sure we are as safe and well-supplied as possible. Friends and family are adjusting to platforms like Zoom in order to continue encouraging one another from home. Churches are adapting to new forms of ministry.

Years from now, when I look back on the 2019 tornado and the 2020 virus, I’m sure many unwelcome, unpleasant memories will still rear their ugly heads from time to time.

But I’m just as sure that many beautiful and heartwarming memories will also be there, reminding me that no matter how bleak things got, we were still Ruston Strong.

And we always will be.

Caleb Daniel is the Ruston Daily Leader’s Digital News Editor. Caleb is a Louisiana Tech University graduate who covers the Lincoln Parish Police Jury and schools for the Ruston Leader.