Why did my husband survive the Plainfield tornado? Luck or divine intervention? If divine intervention, why him?

It’s been 24 years since a tornado roared a path from the outskirts of Plainfield through the countryside to Crest Hill, destroying homes, churches, schools and everything else in its path, and killing 28 people. It was an F 5 storm, notable for the length of time and distance that it spent on the ground. There was no warning.

I feel like I am standing a few feet away from a hornets’ nest, holding a long stick, ready to poke. Not the smartest thing, but here goes. My intention is to raise a spiritual question. But I am risking receiving very non-spiritual answers, as an exchange online about the tornado this week illustrates.

I have a personal interest in this – my husband was in a meeting in a school building when the air turned green, ears popped, the train sound started roaring. The teachers in the room dove under tables. My husband and his partner stood up and picked up their briefcases, and the tornado hit. First, the roof peeled off, then the door frame my husband grasped disappeared, then the building collapsed. They stood up to an open sky and rubble to their waists.

There were heroes like the school employee who cleared the gym of student athletes just before it collapsed; traumas like the visitor to the school who was impaled by a flying board (and survived); and the great tragedy of people who were killed going about their business the day before school was to open.  A paperboy, a nun, a teacher, and 25 other people.

Why did my husband survive to come home, finish raising our children with me, help rebuild the school and other buildings in Plainfield, and go on with his life? Why did those others not?

I heard one theory this week. Let me share some of the online exchange that meant to be for remembrances about the tornado, but that veered into spiritual ground. After several postings of personal experiences around the tornado, came this one from a man who has his own answer to my questions. He states that he was moving away that day to enter bible college in preparation for the ministry. He was in his garage, loading the family’s final items when the storm approached. He went to his driveway and:

…In Jesus’ Name, I rebuked the tornado and ordered it to do no harm to me and my      property… But, I felt faith and God’s power rise up within me as I spoke to the power of nature in Jesus’ Name and at that very moment, I watched the tornado lift and pass over my neighborhood without causing any damage… I will never forget this day and although many people suffered great losses, I was saved from any harm.

The first comment: I think you were dropped on your head, how egocentric and misguided you are.

I personally don’t usually challenge people on their spiritual take, but one additional commenter did. It’s rare to find someone who at a moment like this can take things to a higher plane, and articulate clearly the obvious questions, but he did, asking:

Why you and not the paperboy? How do you rate mercy and others don’t? Aren’t you making an un-Christian conclusion by disregarding the implications of your view on the victims?

While others returned to their recollections of the day and their loved ones, #1 came back with answers, but not of the higher-plane variety:

I was there and you were not…. you find it necessary to attack me… The climate in your heart and mind is what needs to change.

But with no apparent consideration of the questions posed. Oh well, it could have been a revealing conversation.

I know my own take on the matter: we live in a random world that does not operate on favors and piety. We all take our chances every day, celebrate each day that we survive unscathed, and feel for others heartily when they face trouble. We congratulate each other, but not ourselves. And know that it’s more right to be humble and grateful than not.

Ultimately, we each draw our strength from somewhere or something – a higher power, the universe, the independent web of existence, family, beliefs, nature, Oprah, something. Some of us capitalize, some of us don’t. One source doesn’t have a corner on the market.

My husband survived, not because he was superior or powerful, but because he was fortunate. Not because he was hand-picked by a deity loftier than anyone else’s, but because he fell 30 seconds before and five inches away from where the roof beams landed. We make no claims that we deserved this more than other families. But we’ve been grateful for it every day of the 24 years since.


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