It is so unbelievably gut-wrenching to see the faces over and over in my head of my hurting friends, hurting community, hurting kids, rescuers, mothers, sons, leaders….I now know why close-ups of faces are what the media will focus on many times. As much as it was so surreal and so hard to have the media descend on our town and seemingly take over our streets, I do understand that many of these folks have seen the hurting, devastating faces in tragedy after tragedy and they have learned that those pictures are the only ones that could even begin to get people to understand the magnitude of devastation….the magnitude of the unimaginable sadness. It’s unimaginable until it hits your community. It’s unimaginable until the names of people on the news are ones you know.
The untold grief over a lost sister and baby niece, isn’t just a story…it’s a friend who gives her time, love and energy to a town she loves and grew up in. I close my eyes in prayer for her, and all I see is her happy smiling face rooting our sons on in football…the team mom who embodies what it’s suppose to be…a mother for all the little boys out there acting like grown men. Imagine a small town football team mom who will brush off dirt, wipe tears, give water and then tell them to “now, get back out there buddy”. That is her. I haven’t looked into her eyes after she has lost her sister and niece. My heart breaks thinking of it.
I have seen faces of people waiting for word on their families that very first night. Those I won’t describe, because there has to be sanctity and privacy in a place where grief and worry weighs so heavily in the air.
I remember seeing the face of the people in our favorite diner last Sunday morning. It was full of people that you are use to seeing there. A mix of people heading to or heading home from church, teens who are normally retelling stories of their weekend, guys in Carharts with dirty hands and ball caps, big families, small families, couples and folks sitting up a the counter alone nursing their cup of coffee. The faces last Sunday were different. Any laughter I heard seemed uneasy. A place filled with people all trying to start this first day after. Until that Sunday, many didn’t know what a “first day after” really stood for. As we get older, our chances of tragedy, of grief…it grows. All I could think about that morning was that some of the faces in our town are too young to know this grief. Too young to know what a “first day after” feels like. Too freaking young to grow so much older so damn quickly.
I remember seeing the face of the pastor at the only church in Oso. That Saturday morning before 10:37, he was a small town pastor, ministering to his small congregation. His face seemed to be one that was wading through his own grief while trying to manage offers of help from near and far. Wading through the world that was slowly hearing about a town, that wasn’t before truly recognized, outside of themselves, as their own town. Trying to hear the needs of his beloved town through the sirens, the helicopters, his once quiet cell phone ringing and beeping constantly, the cameras, the outsiders coming to help. His face looks worried, sad, overwhelmed, but quietly determined to do what is right, what he’s suppose to do. What God specifically placed him there to do.
I drove down the steep, rain and mud soaked driveway to the Oso fire station to bring some things. I saw the face of the sheriff who was placed on the corner to keep some sense of order. To keep the media, up on the roadside with their cameras pointing down the embankment, from getting closer. To keep people like me, dropping off gloves, a shovel and granola bars, from expecting to find comfort and hope….because they have watched these guys and gals coming and going from hell and they knew they weren’t there to give comfort and hope to the gal with random stuff in her trunk. Gloves, a shovel and granola bars are a Band-Aid on a shattered leg.
I saw the face of a friend at that fire station, waiting to be called to go out to volunteer in the search. I saw the faces of young men…grown boys who, at the very moment you see their eyes, you know they’ve already been out there. These are the local boys. They are the boys you see on weekend mornings in the Blue Bird diner while you are eating breakfast with your own young boys. The same looking boys who you sometimes hush and say “watch your language” while they describe their weekend antics over breakfast at the next table. These boys who you secretly want your boys to be like, and prayerfully hope they will be as respectful as the boys are with their “sorry” ‘s after some mom hushes them and tells them to watch their language. One of these boys faces keeps playing over and over in my head…his fresh looking young face coupled with his dirty gloved hands, dirty boots duct taped at the top, dirty yellow hip waders and worn yellow jacket. He just looked at me when I was talking to be my hopeful volunteer friend. I hope I haven’t hushed him at the Blue Bird before. I hope I haven’t told him to watch his language. That young man…that grown boy…who knows that mud-covered land better than most and that is most likely looking a friend, a family member, a home he lived in or knows….that boy is stronger, more heroic and more grown up then I’ll ever be. It’ll be a long time before I hush a teenager around here. I have no idea what they’ve been through. I’ll err on the side of grace and keeping my own mouth shut. People around here have been in a war zone, and I hope we fully understand that and most importantly don’t forget it.
At the Oso station that first day I was out there, I also saw the face of a good friend who is an Oso firefighter. I knew he had been there since the very beginning of that Saturday after 10:37. I know and love his wife, and I know the worry and grief she is holding. He walked over and gave me a hug. I really can’t describe his face in this public blog world atmosphere. Next to the faces of the families on that first night, his is the one I want to protect too. His grief and what he has been through will be his own story to tell when and if he wants to. Describing his eyes, the look of his face would be telling part of that story, and I want it to remain his. I hurt for him every day though, and his wife…my beautiful, loving, giving friend. I hurt for them both.
I remember the faces of a lot of the media. Many of their faces changed over the days. The first days I think it’s easy to see past the people for the pictures. To look past the person for the stories. Something started changing. They didn’t just look tired, they many times looked bone tired, but a bit haunted by what they saw and what they knew was ahead. You can’t hang out in a small town day after day and not start to feel part of what was normal before. So many of them seemed to go from searching to be the first to a story, to truly wanting to be part of the story…part of trying to find the healing process. It was so easy, and sometimes still is easy, to direct our directionless anger towards anyone with a camera, microphone or pad and paper. We need someone to mad at~we need someone to blame for this sudden, unwanted national attention. We wanted and still want this to not have happened and to just go away. It somehow felt as if these news faces just went away, this horrible nightmare would go away too…that it could make it so that it didn’t happen. We don’t want anyone else to hurt, but somehow seeing the changing faces of the news people makes them being here easier. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is.
Every day though, we keep waking up and know it isn’t going away. We wake up and know that someday we have to start a new normal, but we are working from dawn to dusk and beyond dusk trying to donate, fundraise, cook food and pray it all away. It’s all we know to do right now. To help remove a burden of grief that we can’t even begin to understand yet.