B. J. Hollars, an instructor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, wrote the piece below for the Kansas City Star, which published it yesterday. We posted a recording of him reading his letter from Tuscaloosa to Joplin earlier at Missourinet.com. We interviewed him this morning about why he wrote the letter. [AUDIO]
Hollars is soon to leave Alabama for a new teaching job in Wisconsin. In the interview he explains how the tornado in Tuscaloosa a month ago has made the move harder for him to make.
To the good people of Joplin:
This will get worse before it gets better. I know this only because of what I’ve observed from my own firsthand experiences in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a city much like yours that was ravaged a month prior to your own disaster.
Allow me to share with you a difficult truth:
In the coming hours and days your death count is likely to rise. Cellphone reception will return – which, on the surface, seems like a good thing – though this increased communication will bring mostly bad news.
People will begin to understand who was lost and how and as their stories sift from the rubble, it will soon become clear that everybody knows somebody now gone. You will begin hearing stories, though unlike the phone calls, not all of them will end badly. Like the one where the bathtub blows away but the family remains safely inside.
I should warn you, also, that you will soon be inundated with a storm of another sort. Everyone will want to help you, and even those of you who were spared the worst of it will receive a knock on your door, someone pleading with you to take a bottle of water.
This is a small gift from a person who feels as helpless as you do, and even if the good you are doing feels not good enough, just remember you’re helping by taking it.
I write to you today in the hopes that my recent experiences here might offer you a momentary glimpse into your future.
One month from today, you will not be healed, but healing.
The scrap will be piled like bunkers alongside the roads, and eventually, even the choir of sirens will dissipate. One day soon, cars will once again outnumber ambulances, and in a few weeks time, you’ll see a child throw a Frisbee and for a moment, forget that anything more treacherous ever collected in the wind.
I knew our cities were linked when I watched the on-site meteorologist from the Weather Channel choke up while on the air.
He was describing your world turned inside out, your people stumbling, when he broke from his narrative to admit that Joplin “looks very reminiscent of what we saw last month in (pause) Tuscaloosa.”
His pause seems to say everything that we could not, reminding me of one final piece of advice I humbly bestow upon you today: You will find, I think, that the inexplicable nature of nature is another hard-earned side effect of your troubles. For a month now, I have been trying to write my way out of disaster, but it is still here, and it will be with us until all the words run out.
Yet words can provide comfort as well, and if, in the future, you find that your own experiences might prove useful for another storm-torn town, I encourage you to write to them as I have written to you.
Remind them that while today appears dreary, all forecasts point to sunnier days ahead.