UA student, Atmore native holds onto faith in midst of tragedy

Published 5:25 pm Monday, May 2, 2011

Good people died in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday. They died suddenly, unexpectedly, through no fault of their own. They died at Mother Nature’s hand.

On 13th Street, a man pointed to trees that narrowly missed his home and said, “That’s how the Lord works.”

But did the Lord not work for Nicole Mixon or Ashley Harrison or any of the other people who died?

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Faith is important to Tuscaloosa. In times like these, we look to our faith to guide and comfort us. Too often, though, we also look to faith for answers when there are no answers, for justification when there can be no justification.

As we go forward, we will find purpose and meaning in death and destruction. Yet, we will never know why we survived and others didn’t, why our buildings stayed strong while those across the street disappeared. We can only hope that we will grow stronger as individuals and as a community as we process what happened, honor those who died, and rebuild what was destroyed.

Faith can provide context to help understand these events and guide our response, but faith cannot explain them. Nothing can explain them.

As we grieve for those who have lost their lives, homes, or businesses, our inability to understand the cause of their suffering makes it harder to grasp our own emotions. However, our ability, as a community, to channel those emotions into a human relief effort of tremendous proportions is a testament to the spirit of our community and the University.

The Student Recreation Center had to turn students away Wednesday night because the inflow of supplies was too large. On Saturday, Holt High School announced it couldn’t utilize any more volunteers. UA Greek Relief has distributed over 11000 hot plates to the impacted areas.

Tragedies change communities. They affect not only our physical infrastructure, but also our spirit. They bring us together in common purpose and shared sorrow.

The collective response to this tragedy has certainly brought out the best of The University of Alabama and Tuscaloosa. But what will the long-term consequences be? How will we grow from this, together? What have we learned is truly important?

Looking for meaning and justification behind Wednesday’s events is an empty pursuit. Yet, we can all find meaning in the weeks, months, and years ahead, in the memories we keep and the emotions we acknowledge and feel.

Catastrophes occur frequently in all parts of the world. Hurricanes devastate cities; floods flow through towns; earthquakes ravage entire nations. Men fight other men; dictators suppress their people; terrorists blow themselves up to kill innocent civilians. We see these things on television, we sympathize with victims and text donations to the relief effort. But these things don’t happen to us. They never happen to us.

Now, it is us. Compared to the Japanese towns that were wiped out by the recent tsunami or the Haitians who lost most of their fragmented country in last year’s earthquake, we seem fortunate. We live in a country that has the resources to turn the power back on in a couple of days and clear trees from our streets in hours. But we look at the places where our favorite restaurants once stood and the yards our friends once called home, and we don’t feel fortunate. Even here, in America, when a monstrous cloud strikes from the sky, we can do nothing to stop it from tearing up everything in its path. We can do nothing to save the lives swirled away by disaster.

The strength of Tuscaloosa and the University this past week has been incredible. Let’s remember this moment. Let’s cherish it. Let’s show the world that we will not only rebuild this city, but we will rebuild this community around the spirit of humility and service that this tragedy has awakened. In these pursuits, we will find our purpose, and hopefully a meaning behind events we can only hope to understand.

Tray Smith is the opinions editor of The Crimson White.