Editorial: When disaster strikes, the fortunate step up

  • Crews clean up fallen trees on Monday, June 21, 2021 along Cobblebrook Lane in Naperville after an overnight tornado moved through the subdivision.

    Crews clean up fallen trees on Monday, June 21, 2021 along Cobblebrook Lane in Naperville after an overnight tornado moved through the subdivision. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 6/22/2021 6:39 AM

The scariest thing about a tornado is its unpredictability. In one house, five kids are huddled in the basement -- untouched. Next door, a couple sleeps blissfully unaware of the meteorological chaos outside, and suddenly the house has vanished. Just gone.

Whole blocks are destroyed, debris strewed violently without a discernible pattern. Other blocks are entirely undisturbed, where a few letters forgotten in the mailbox are still there the next morning. A utility check swept up by powerful winds is deposited, unmolested, in a backyard hundreds of miles away.

 

Unlike hurricanes and floods, where no one escapes the relentless destruction, tornadoes pick favorites. Or unfavorites. Or maybe they are just rearranging the furniture. A house here, a roof there. A dump truck here, a bicycle there. The unpredictability makes it all the more terrifying.

But when the winds die down and people emerge, shaken, from their basements and under their mattresses, a certain order re-establishes itself. The lucky ones, if they have the means, start figuring out how to help.

It must be in our DNA, this thing that wells up in our hearts at the sight of our neighbors in trouble. We don't shut our doors and go back to our TVs, content that first responders and the Red Cross can handle it.

Instead, we take stock. Do our neighbors need food right now? What about shelter? Can we comfort a crying child so their parents can comb through the mess that used to be their home, dazedly looking for anything to salvage?

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Can we lend a cellphone so a family can reach out to anxious loved ones to say, "We're still here"?

Can we just listen to someone incoherent, grappling with the terror of what they just experienced and a lack of clarity on what to do first?

Yes, we can and yes, we do. And our generosity doesn't stop there -- if the neighbors are OK then the first responders are exhausted, and would appreciate food, water and maybe a place to sit down and regroup.

Like Chris Pritchett, who along with his wife and two sons all on bicycles, pulled a wagon down Nutmeg Lane in Naperville Sunday night, passing out doughnuts to first responders. "We're so fortunate," Pritchett said.

How do we grow people like this? Here's hoping we never run out of them.

"The generosity of our community has not gone unnoticed," said Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico.

On a normal day, no one thinks, "I'm going to be a hero today." You are minding your own business when in a split second the world turns upside down. And suddenly there you are, driving doughnuts up your street, or helping someone search for the family photo albums beneath the rubble. It's who we are.

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