Our phones are popping at the same time: “Take cover immediately . . . .”
Outside, the wind gusts; objects are striking the building, the windows.
We quickly gather the children who’ve come for Vacation Bible School – there’s about seventy of us in all – and they get down on the floor, balling up with their heads against the painted cinderblocks of the main hallway.
The wind is roaring now. The electricity goes out. The emergency lighting flashes on, bright as spotlights, adding a stark, garish quality to faces and bodies. The fire alarm goes off, a deafening blare, as it’s right above us. A boy with hearing aids rips them out of his ears.
The children are still, silent, as heavy objects strike windows in classrooms – will the windows shatter? For a split second I am tempted to look out and see if Miss Gulch is riding through the air on her bicycle just as she morphs into the Wicked Witch of the West.
Instead I kneel over several children as a shield, leaning my head against the cool concrete wall.
These walls are solid, I think. Safe.
But just around the corner in the fellowship hall is a hutch with a large, framed photo of the church when it was nearly flattened by a tornado twenty years ago.
Minutes are eternal when destruction is banging on the door.
If we die, I think, at least we are in church.
My husband, the pastor, prays aloud.
The wind soon abates, dies away.
We go outside to find long strips of vinyl from someone’s home strewn in the parking lot. Big pieces of plywood from who knows where are lying against the building. Shingles are scattered about like fall leaves. The trashcans are way across the graveyard – we trek over to fetch them and we see the gap in the woods where the tornado came through. It cut a path through the cemetery, knocking down a line of gravestones. Silk and plastic flowers, little angel statues and other loose memorials left by families for their loved ones are blown everywhere.
The children retrieve and replace them.
Parents begin arriving, alarmed. Others in the community come to see if everything’s okay.
Just as we are leaving, I turn back toward the church – “Look!”
Arcing up from the woods across the street to the woods behind the cemetery, in the sky directly above the church, a rainbow gleams.
All is well.