It’s a week later and, if I sit very still, I can feel a shaking in my muscles. I was rattled.
Coming back from a spring break trip with the family Friday, March 31st, a tornado went right over our car on I57 between the Rantoul and Paxton exits. We saw three semis and a bus in front of us get toppled. Behind us, an RV and another semi were knocked over.
A power line was downed across the road and authorities shut down the highway until the livewire could be cleared.
As we approached Champaign, tornado warning messages hit all of our phones. We weren’t sure what qualified as adequate shelter in the cornfields of downstate Illinois, so we pressed on. The skies were ominous black with lightning bursts hidden above the lower dark clouds. It was creepy like out of a movie, but it wasn’t even raining. All the lightning was to the west so I was hopeful maybe we could be north of the danger by the time it came eastward.
After we passed Rantoul, the warning messages came again. Now hail started to come down. We saw a bridge for a country road up ahead and we pulled under. At the very least, we would avoid the hail.
A few other cars started finding spots on the shoulders under the bridge. A minute later, semis and buses started pulling over ahead of us past the bridge. Then it hit in a flash. Visibility became obscured. I just saw bursts of gray.
I was looking to my left because I kept fearing something from the highway was going to slam into us. While I looked that direction, my wife and daughter, looking straight ahead, saw a semi lifted up, back down and then over. There were moments we felt a burst of wind trying to lift our car, too. We had the bridge overhead and the hill of the road as an advantage the trucks didn’t.
There were screams, prayers, confusion. The chaos didn’t last long, but inside it it felt like its own unique infinity. When it all settled we discovered what had happened around us. Yet our car was unscathed.
There were two people injured between the bus and semis ahead of us. A few were treated for concussion symptoms. One truck driver was bleeding and cut up. Those who were north of us had to walk past our car to get to the EMTs that were blocked by the RV that had toppled at a 90 degree angle to the road blocking the shoulders and both lanes.
There were no fatalities. We were unharmed. Praise God for that.
Days later we learned that it was confirmed a 110 mile an hour EF1 tornado went over the interstate right where we were. One more mile an hour and it would have been an EF2.
When I was 16, I had an incident where I lost control of my vehicle and wound up spun out within inches of an L shaped building. The right corner of my hood was inches from brick and the right corner of my trunk was also inches from brick. When my 1970 Nova came to a stop there, I thought to myself, “I should be dead right now.” I felt then God had a hand in my complete safety. Yet, after that pause and realization, I returned to my teenage ignorant life.
Last week was another moment where I could easily say, “I should be dead right now.” And worse, my family possibly too. I think God again had a hand. Again I have an opportunity to pay attention and see each moment as what can be seen as borrowed time.
As Gandalf and Frodo conversed about the era they were living in, “Wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
So as I feel the echoes of muscles quake in the stillness, I see the gift of the time before me and the blessing of having the choice to use it well.