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Sunday Reflections: Shelter from the Storm, a reflection on Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Last night it stormed.

The real thunder and lightning kind of storm you don’t often get here in Texas. I knew it was coming because all of the sudden my dog had to come and sleep right on top of my head. That apparently is his safe place during a storm.

I forget what those storms can be like after just a couple of years here in Texas, but we had them all the time of course in Ohio. And since the flood of 2011, they still freak me out.

Even here in Texas. I keep waiting for the floods to come again, even though this dry, cracked land thirsts for the water something fierce.

In Ohio, after the flood, we all suffered a kind of post traumatic stress. Every storm that came we would brace ourselves: Will we flood again? I see it all the time on my Facebook feed when it starts to really rain in Ohio, my friends who remain start to post those worrying posts. My feed starts to fill up with reports of rain, the agitation begins as they wait to see if once again the rains will fill the streets and they’ll have to find a way to save themselves from those freezing, rushing waters. The memories haunt us.

In Torn Away by Jennifer Brown (which I recommend), a young girl – Jersey – loses her mother and sister in a tornado. She loses her home. She loses everything. And she is forced to go live with people she doesn’t know while she struggles to grieve losses that most of us as adults can’t even comprehend.

There are two compelling scenes where we realize just how traumatized Jersey has been by this storm. In one, she is shut in a dark basement by a couple of spoiled, bratty sisters and Jersey freaks out. The basement is where she hid when the sirens went off and she lost everything. It is not a safe space for her, it is a reminder. It is where she was when everything in her life changed.

Later in the story, a storm approaches again. The sirens go off. And Jersey is almost crippled by her fear. Long after the sirens go off she is still crouching in a sort of fetal position with her ears covered, screaming at the top of her lungs.

I understood all too well the fear that can grip you as you remember what has happened. I understood Jersey, and because I understood I can’t think of a book that has made me madder than this one in a long time. The way the adults acted in this book made me want to hurl the book across the room. I wanted them to give her the space and time to heal, to acknowledge her loss, to acknowledge her fear. I wanted them to be her shelter from the storm, but they didn’t always understand how to do that for her. And some of them were suffering their own very real losses. Finding emotional shelter can be just as harrowing a journey as Jersey’s attempt to find physical shelter after her town was demolished.

When the rains come, I can still feel that fear gripping me as I wonder how I’m going to get my kids out of a flooding house only to open my front door and see the waters raging by my front porch. They were 8 and 2. It was February 28th. The water was freezing. It was fast. It was a force of nature. And a good storm can put me right back into that moment. My girls, they mean everything to me and that moment when I did not know how I was going to get them to safety was the single most terrifying moment of my life. It haunts me. It will probably always haunt me.

No one died that day the flood came. But in our story, Jersey lost the only mother she’ll ever get. She lost a sister that loved the East Coast swing. And she lost that sense of safety that many kids get to keep for just a little bit longer, well the lucky ones do. Some of our teens are born into this life, into circumstances, that never let them develop that sense of safety and well being to lose. Some of them will spend their whole lives trying to find a shelter from the storm because of the situations they are born into.

In the years following the flooding of my town, there have been a lot of other storms. There was Superstorm Sandy. Far too many tornadoes. And just the other month there was flooding in Detroit. In the afterward author Jennifer Brown mentions that it was the tornadoes in Joplin that inspired Torn Away. I can’t help thinking, sometimes, that is seems like there are so many more severe, life taking storms lately. Or maybe I’m just more aware of them now because I look for them. Or maybe it’s both. But in that moment, I learned just how unsafe this world can be. Again. But as the community came together to clean up, I also learned that sometimes the darkest of moments can bring out the very best in us.

That night as I closed my front door and told my girls to get dressed a knock came. And there stood two men, asking if I needed help. Those men, a true miracle to me, carried my daughters through the cold, rushing waters to the top of a hill where we found safety. A friend from another town came and picked us up. Another friend let us stay with them for a week while our house was repaired. Other friends took up a donation to replace the food in our refrigerator. Small acts of kindness became our shelter from the storm.

The truth is, there are a lot of Jersey’s around us – haunted by a storm, a moment that changed everything. A moment that reminded us that mother nature is a force to be reckoned with and that you can lose everything in a moment. A moment that turns on our fear switch that we can never really ever find a way to turn back off so that with every drop of rain, we look in true awe inspiring fear wondering what the storm will take from us this time. Teens learn that the world is not a safe place in many ways and in their own time, but we also have to make sure that we are teaching them that there can be shelter from the storm in the people you love and the power of community. Because that’s what we all need, a little shelter from the storm and a little hope for the future.