One year and one day ago, a tornado tore through our neighbourhood in Minneapolis, smashing up our house and many of our neighbours’. A tornado is never good news, but this one was especially bad. North Minneapolis was already the poorest neighbourhood in the city, and many people had so little that they literally lost everything they had that day.
The physical damage that the tornado wrought that day was enormous, but I didn’t fully understand how significant an event it would be in my own consciousness. It was a defining moment and in some ways, it’s easier to clearly mark the events that have happened in the year since than it usually is to recount everything that’s happened in the past year on New Year’s Eve (even before the drinking starts).
As I suggested in the title, the last year has been strange. There have been very good moments, and very bad moments, but the sum of them all is weirdness. I originally made an attempt to list the good and the bad things from the last year, but in life, such things are intermingled, and you don’t always know if something will turn out to be good or bad. Here then, are the highlights of our strange year.
1. Post-Tornado. The tornado itself was sufficiently devastating to cause everyone affected a great deal of misery. But for us, this was compounded by the painfully slow rebuilding process (our house did not have a permanent roof until after the first snow had fallen in November). I had naïvely believed right after the tornado hit that our house might be completely repaired by the time we were scheduled to leave for Uganda (late July). HA! By that time, the second (of what would turn out to be 3) contractor was just getting a work plan in place.
Beyond the drama of our house’s reconstruction, though, we discovered mixed truth in the adage that “tragedy brings out the best in people.” Although solicitors were swarming the neighbourhood within hours, looking to profiteer from the tornado, we also met neighbours we didn’t even know we had as we all came together to help each other out. In some ways, we also found friends that we didn’t even know we had, as people who had seemed like mere acquaintances showed up to help us. We were at once reminded of our frail humanity in the face of natural phenomena, and of the strength of human communities.
2. Saying goodbye to Minneapolis. By the time we left Minneapolis (Faith in July, me in August), we had been living there for three years (in addition to the four years that each of us spent in Minnesota in college). We are both restless wanderers, but Minneapolis had become a home to us: we owned a house, we have friends to whom we felt a great sense of loyalty, we were deeply involved in our church, and in a short time we had collected many memories in the City of Lakes. Our time had come to move on, however, and leaving Minneapolis was incredibly hard. It might have been marginally easier if we had left in the dead of winter, but leaving a place that special was never going to be easy.
3. Finding our place in Uganda. Leaving a place we loved was hard. No matter where we moved, that shadow would have loomed large, but moving to a different continent is inherently challenging. In my experience, the greatest temptation of moving to a new place is the desire to try to recreate what you had in the last place, rather than appreciate your new situation. I feel we’ve resisted that urge though, making wonderful friends that are unique and different from any we had before, experiencing new things (good, bad and weird) that we never could have in Minneapolis and appreciating the wild adventures that very few are privileged to enjoy.
4. A year of weddings. Less than a week after our house was ravaged by the tornado, we embarked, undeterred, on an epic wedding weekend, driving down to Nebraska for the wedding of one of our very dear friends from college, and then flying to North Carolina the very next day for my cousin’s wedding. Both were beautiful in very different ways. We also got to experience a different sort of nuptials at our first introduction ceremony in Uganda. We had one other epic wedding journey in October…
5. My sister’s wedding. Only a few months after we had moved to Uganda, we made an all-to-brief return trip to the US for my sister Lauren’s wedding in October (It was featured on Martha Stewart’s real weddings, in case you hadn’t already read about it ;). There was never any question whether we’d be there for her wedding (we were both in the wedding, after all), but it was nevertheless a difficult choice, as it meant we wouldn’t be able to come back for Christmas. We never regretted it one bit. The quick trip afforded us a chance to pack in time with friends and family in both Minneapolis and Indiana, to remember just how different our lives had become, and most importantly, to be a part of a very special wedding.
It’s difficult to coherently express the jumble of emotions I felt seeing my little sister get married. Naturally, I was happy for her and her now-husband Ben, as they had been dating forever, and were always meant to get married. But it’s a strange and humbling, and ultimately wonderful thing to realise that someone you grew up with, and who you’ve known as long as they’ve been alive has grown up and become a part of something new and beautiful and different, all in the brief moment you looked away.
6. My Grandpa dying. I won’t say too much about this, since I’ve already written about my grandpa on my other blog. But, his passing, which was too sudden and too soon, was another devastating and defining moment. It necessitated another trip back to the US, which was planned only one day in advance, and which was fraught with mishaps.
Many of the cliches that are usually bandied about concerning funerals did not apply to my grandpa’s. But one that was apropos was this: it brought the whole family together. All of us converged with lightning speed upon Indianapolis, and for the first time ever, all 11 cousins from that side of the family were in the same city at the same time. My grandpa had such an outsized impact on so many people’s lives that the events commemorating him — the viewing, the memorial, the last class of the marathon training course he taught — provoked an incredible outpouring of admiration. Every article that appeared online about his passing was immediately swarmed with comments from people sharing stories about how he had touched their lives.
7. Being able to look ahead. Uncertainty has been a constant fixture of this past year. So it’s nice that some assurances for the future also managed to factor into the year. After spending several months in the fall applying to grad schools, I was accepted to all but one. In January, Faith and I decided that we would move to London in September so I can pursue a Masters at King’s College London.
And to cap it all off, the day before the one year anniversary of the tornado, Faith found out she had progressed to the final stage of interviews for the US Foreign Service. Since that process moves with characteristic bureaucratic languor, it is possible she might have a job lined up for the year after I finish my degree!
Yesterday was the end of the strangest year of our lives. Today is the start of a new year for us. Happy New Year!!!