Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sweet Home Alabama, 5500 miles away

I decided to take the spring semester of 2011 to study abroad in Spain. I was traveling all over the place during our spring break – I had just come from Morocco, through Rome and to Malta. My second day on the island, I finally found Internet in a McDonald’s. I opened Facebook on my iPod Touch and within moments knew that something was terribly wrong.

I kept reading statuses about ‘Pray for Tuscaloosa,’ ‘Our town is in pieces,’ etc. I couldn’t find details, and then I saw it: a link to a video of a monster F5 tornado ripping through my town. My heart wrenched and a gasp left my body. Tears started streaming down my face as I saw the destruction. In the next few moments a new wave of terror hit my body as I realized how many loved ones of mine were in Tuscaloosa. I had no idea if anyone was OK. I had no idea where exactly the tornado hit. I had limited Internet access and a friend’s phone card. I quickly made my way downstairs to a payphone to call my dad.

As soon as I heard his voice, I broke down into tears all over again. He assured me that campus was OK, but 15th Street was wiped out. This gave me comfort and hit me hard all at once. I held on to the hope that my friends had stayed on campus, but was wrecked inside knowing how many students live on or near 15th. After talking with my dad I got back on Facebook and saw status updates from a few of my friends. The wave of relief rushing over me was incredible. Over the next few hours I learned of more friends being spared. I was fortunate enough to not have experienced a direct loss other than the loss that the entire UA family is feeling.

That night, I stood on my balcony and thought about Tuscaloosa. As I thought about the destruction and the horrible things my UA family members must have been going through, I couldn’t help but become discouraged. I knew that my feelings of desperation were nothing compared to the fear and hopelessness that could be felt in Tuscaloosa. I was lucky to have been studying abroad. I can’t imagine what it must be like to see our city in shambles. Just as I thought I couldn’t handle the news anymore, I heard an unmistakably recognizable song playing downstairs.

“Sweet home Alabama, where the skies are so blue…”

The club downstairs was playing the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit in support of the disasters throughout the South. People were thinking of Tuscaloosa from 5500 miles away. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that while nothing would ever be the same, things would be OK.

Tuscaloosa is a town known for its charisma and strength. The people of Tuscaloosa are some of the most supportive and incredible people in the world. To everyone affected who reads this, know that you are not alone. Your city will take care of you. Your peers will take care of you. That is the spirit of Tuscaloosa. This tragedy is not going unnoticed. The entire world is thinking of and praying for you. Take it from someone 6,000 miles away.

I anxiously await the day that I can come volunteer with the rest of you. I feel guilty for not being there, but I know that the recovery will commence without me. I know that I will never be able to fully relate to those of you who watched our town get destroyed, but I cannot even begin to describe the amount of pride I feel every time I see updates on the recovery of our city. You are strong and capable. The world is rooting for you. Your undying perseverance and strength are an inspiration and a testament to the character of our school and our town.

Here’s to you, Tuscaloosa. Stay strong. We ain’t never been nothing but winners. Roll tide.


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