Today, on the first day of Advent, I listened to the words of Matthew and heard them in a new way.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
These words struck me today. In fact, they hit me between the eyes! You see, I live in central Illinois. No flood here. But, I live in one of the communities that was hit by devastating tornadoes on November 17th just after 11 am. One tornado touched down just south of us in North Pekin. Another one touched down not far from my house, jumped over the highway, destroying 30 homes and severely damaging 200 along a path through East Peoria and then picked up again to set down at the category of EF-4 on the south side of Washington. There, the tornado went right through subdivisions, destroying everything in its path. The last estimate I heard was over 1000 homes destroyed. Pictures have been all over the internet, but nothing is the same as seeing it firsthand.
I am thankful that we were not hurt. Our business and our home were spared. But, friends have not been so fortunate and that in itself makes this so hard. You see, that morning of the tornado, I was on my annual silent retreat. Finishing up the final conferences on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and having come to terms with the changes that had been happening in my life. I was looking forward to coming home and entering life with a new passion and purpose. I took some pictures along the bluffs of the Mississippi of the dichotomy of the blue skies over the Illinois side of the river and the black, dark, foreboding clouds over the Missouri side of the river. I was reflecting on how that image was so true of life! One minute our life could seem so blue and crystal clear while dark storm clouds are brewing on the edges. Little did I know just how real that image and reflection would come to mean in just a short period of time.
It has been 2 weeks since that day. I can still remember how I started getting texts from workmates/friends wanting to make sure we were okay. I didn’t know why they were asking and finally one told me what had happened. I called my husband to make sure he and my daughter with him were okay and they were. I was told that I should stay and finish the retreat, that they were okay. So, I did. I stayed for the final Mass and luncheon and left afterwards. As we drove north, I called and checked in with friends and starting hearing details of what exactly had happened. The more I heard, the more I shook. When I got home, we ate dinner and prayed as a family and then I went out to start checking on clients and friends who lived in the areas hit. The ones I knew about at that time. All I knew about then were okay, just without power and only minor damage. But, then each day brought more information. Each day has brought more stories. Each day has brought more knowledge that nothing we knew the morning of November 17 will ever be quite the same again.
The communities are working together and it is good to see the camaraderie that has come about in the aftermath of this tragedy. It still takes my breath away with the realities. There has been some not so good times as well with miscommunication and misinformation. But, overall, we will survive this. But, we won’t be the same.
My biggest prayer is that this helps all of us realize the true meaning of today’s Gospel and maybe take it to heart in a way we never have before.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.