20 years ago, in October of 1989, we moved into the home which we live in now. In August of the following year, a tornado ripped through our town killing 27 people. But for my wife's anal attitude about seat belts, the count could easily have been 30.
Annie had two little playmates of my boys in the car with her - it was time for them to be home and she was driving them home through the storm. Nobody knew what was coming - there was no early warning system in our town, then - no way to warn or tell anyone that life threatening conditions existed. She drove right into the teeth of the tornado.
The tornado picked up her car and rolled it, threw it into a parking lot and left it sitting there, upright but wrinkled and windowless. They were, naturally, frightened. They were, also, cut, beat up, bruised and bleeding. But they were alive. They had stayed in the car because of Annie's insistence that the kids wear their seat belts. And, of course, she was wearing hers. A woman driving the highway just outside town wasn't so lucky. She didn't wear her belt and the tornado sucked her out of her car. They found her body in the middle of a farmer's field, naked.
But Annie and the boys were alive.
They were out of the car, wandering down the road, in a landscape that suddenly was totally unreal and foreign. The high school which had been on their right as they drove toward town was gone. The trees which made the area look so inviting and friendly were stripped bare or uprooted. They were in an area where Annie didn't know any people, all the houses were strange to her. She was feeling lost, devastated, and she was crying.
Suddenly, there stood in front of her an older woman and her tall, kindly looking husband. The Wheelers. They took her and the two little boys into their home, which was on the undamaged side of the street. They helped calm them, helped Annie pick the glass out of her scalp, gave them warm drinks and dry clothing. And Annie calmed down to the point she got her wits about her and she eventually got the French boys to their home and then got herself home to our house.
Over the years, all of that has become a memory - and it has drifted away to one that seldom gets visited. But two weeks ago we were at our favorite restaurant, newly re-opened, sitting in the vestibule waiting for seating. Suddenly, there in front of Annie, stood that older woman from 20 years ago. Annie stood, they embraced, and they both stood there crying in each other's arms. The whole thing came flooding back for them and they both felt the love and kindness that flowed from the Wheelers over three lost and hurt strangers, as if it was yesterday.
We have seen, we have been the recipients of, the love and kindness of strangers. First hand. It is in that love and kindness we find hope for the future. We know what's out there. We know what people are capable of. In this day and time, when the pressures of culture and circumstance distract us from the simple things that mean so much when one can slow down and see them, the Wheelers and their kindness stand as a reminder, to us, of what it could be like, what it should be like, and God willing, what someday it will be like.
p.s. Go to Blog Nosh Magazine and find more Hope For The Holidays stories.