My mother often said in various ways, “Son, don’t just be in the storms. Always be going through the storms.”
I didn’t fully understand at the time, but I kept on living and understood better by and by as the years and experiences taught me the huge differences between these three-word phrases: Through the storms and in the storms. Through the storms.
The storms were multiple. Some started long before Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. However, the weather storm in Selma on this day forged a connection between different kinds of storms.
I was in my law office. The television was on, persistently following the storm as it moved northerly. It was in Dallas County 20, some miles from Selma. The weather person was saying that an area of the storm was showing increasing intensity, which meant a tornado was likely. The “tornado watch” became a “tornado warning.” Through the storms.
The storm continued heading toward Selma. The weather person said to seek a safe place immediately. All our office personnel moved to a safe place. We all need safe places in storms. I was in my office with big glass doors to the outside. I turned the television up real loud and closed the door to my office. I could still hear the weather person. He said the tornado was no longer potential but actual. I could hear the winds whirling and battering. Then the lights went off and the television went off. The internet was out. I was in the dark with no connections. Storms always seem worse when we are alone and in the dark. Through the storms.
Faya was not at the law office because she was recovering from COVID. She was on the phone at home in our bedroom when the emergency message over the cell blared “Tornado – take cover.” She immediately got in my closet and closed the door. She felt the house shaking. She heard the winds clashing and screeching. She heard glass shattering. The lights went off. She was in the dark and alone. She called me on her cell. She was no longer alone. I was no longer alone. We were no longer in darkness. Through the storms.
The law office was not hit by the tornado, but hundreds of homes and businesses were smashed. My family doctor’s offices were smashed. So many were homeless. The Selma Country Club was smashed. The 50,000 watts radio station WBFZ 105.3 FM was destroyed. Neither the building nor the equipment was insured. My home was insured, but I am certain that so many families had no insurance to cover their smashed properties. Then began the storm after the storm. Through the storms.
I was worried about all the people impacted because the destruction was so massive. But I was determined to get home to Faya. I could not go the regular route along Alabama State Highway 14, as fallen trees and power lines blocked the path at every turn. I had to turn around and come back to try another route. Sometimes we have to detour in storms. Separation from loved ones makes the storm seem worse. Through the storms.
Once together, we then had to try to find a place to stay the night. There were no rooms in the inn in Selma. Sometimes there is no refuge in storms. We traveled to Montgomery to spend the night, but we were back in Selma at 7-something on Friday morning. The full scope of the devastation was unmistaken and massive. Some storms slashed all in their path. I could see that while the tornado did not discriminate on the basis of race, class, economic conditions, religion, gender, that the ongoing poverty storm multiplies adverse impacts. The poor are not just going through the storms; they are mired in the storms. Through the storms.
Faya and I struggled with the impact of the storms. We had many persons from across this country and in Africa who were concerned about our family. So many called and texted and emailed. They were a shield against the storm after the storm. We all need a shield in storms. Many people did not have this shield from this weather storm. Our house was damaged, but I had credit cards to get a hotel. Our family members were safe and there for us. They were shields in the storm after the storm. We had insurance on our house. Another shield. Through the storms.
There were so many people in Selma who do not live in Selma. Many were employees of big companies driving big trucks and other equipment. They had come to help repair but at a good price. There were almost no African Americans or Latinos or Asians operating all this equipment. These are high paying jobs. We were glad people were fixing the roads and power lines and other things but were continually reminded of another storm: the storm of pervasive racial discrimination in higher paying jobs. Through the storms.
All storms are not bad. There are also storms of kindness. There have been so many acts of kindness from offers of assistance and refuge to hot homemade soup. Storms of kindness ameliorate the impact of other storms. But we go through these storms. Through the storms.
Storms come, and storms go. But we must always go through the storm. Going through the storm reflects hope. Being in the storm reflects despair. Through the storms.
— Hank Sanders is a Harvard-educated attorney and politician who served as a member of the Alabama Senate from 1983 to 2018. Sanders writes a weekly column that is widely published and has three weekly radio programs.