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Derecho 2020: Lessons Out of Loss

The sky looked clear, but the sirens were blaring as I waited for the stoplight.

“I think we should have left earlier,” my six-year-old said from her seat behind me. I could hear fear in her little voice. Our quick, fun trip to the craft store had turned serious when we heard the first storm warning on the radio.

‘We’re ok.” I reassured her. “Look at the sky. Whatever is coming is still a long way away. The sirens are just doing their job telling us to get home and be safe. That’s just what we are doing.”

We made it only a few minutes before the sky grew suddenly and alarmingly dark. 

If you were in the Cedar Rapids area on August 10, 2020. You know what it was like. The endless wind and pounding rain. Peering out windows thinking it looks just like Al Roker should be reporting on a hurricane right from your own driveway. The snaps, thumps, cracks, and crashes. Wondering how much longer it can possibly go on. 

A derecho in the midst of a pandemic is not a good memory for anyone. In fact, my pulse still quickens when I can hear the wind howling outside or the sound of a chainsaw starting up.

Derecho 2020: Lessons from LossHowever, on this one-year anniversary of the Derecho, I want to remember more than the fear, the destruction, and the loss. There is so much good to remember and the lessons from Derecho are deep and lasting.

The derecho taught us about…

Gaining Grit

When the pandemic started, we felt like the whole world stopped. On August 10th, it felt like it stopped again. We’d been here before. We knew we could do hard things, so we got to work. We dug out the work gloves and put our kids to work. It’s not fun to drag branch after branch to the curb in August heat. Nor is it entertaining to rake up leaves and pine needles or haul endless wheelbarrow loads of debris, but we knew we could do it and so could our kids. One of my fears is raising entitled kids, and the derecho certainly gave us the opportunity to battle entitlement in favor of gaining grit. 

Finding Joy

A neighbor smoked all the meat from his freezer before it went bad and we had an impromptu cookout in our driveway with the neighborhood. From kindergarteners to retirees, everyone brought something to share. We ate and laughed and talked. My little girl lost her first tooth that night. I’ll never forget her barbecue sauce smeared face with her immensely proud gap-toothed smile under the beam of a flashlight. We all slept in the basement slumber party style because of damage to our main level and the lack of AC. That set up provided a front-row seat to the Christmas-like anticipation of the next morning. All the kids could not wait to see what the tooth fairy would bring. Despite the sticky summer heat and the mess everywhere we looked, that evening was pure joy.

True Gratitude

We were greatly humbled by the people who just showed up. Even without cell service, people just came. Our roof was temporarily patched, we were lent a chainsaw and given food and other necessities. Our disaster of a yard was mostly cleared by the end of the week because friends, neighbors, and co-workers were on a mission to take care of one another. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so truly grateful in my life.

Relentless Hope

While my husband worked to get the tree branches out of the roof, my kids and I cautiously ventured outside on the afternoon of August 10th. I was stunned at the sight in front of me. Devastated. How could this happen? How would we ever get it cleaned up and repaired?

My daughter looked past all the destruction and ran to check our lone Sunflower. It was only one in a package that we never thought would grow in the first place because the seeds were so old. Upon seeing it she yelled excitedly, “MOM! The sunflower is going to be ok! It’s knocked down, but not uprooted!”

Sure enough, that giant flower which once stood proud, lay flat on the ground. Despite being knocked down, it was already turning its face to the sun – its roots held fast in the Iowa soil. 

Just like us. 

That’s when I knew we’d be ok. All of us. You, too.

It was our love for this community that made the derecho’s effects so devastating. But, it was also that same love that reminded us we belong to each other and to this beautiful and broken place. No matter how badly we get knocked down, we’ll continue to help each other back up.

That’s what makes us Iowa Strong.


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