As I lay in bed this morning listening to the wind whip through the trees on this blustery and wintery day, I realized I was wondering if one of them would fall on the house…and hoping and praying one would not. Once you have a tree fall on your house, you can’t help but wonder whether it will happen again.
On January 20, 1993, Western Washington State experienced what became known as “infamous Inaugural Day Windstorm.” As Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, we in the Seattle area had other things on our minds.
It was a typical homeschooling day in the Carney household, although one where we were getting a slower start than normal that morning. Eric was having a hard time getting out of bed, preferring to snuggle down under the covers on that blustery morning. Joe had gone to work as usual, crossing the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington to his job in downtown Seattle. The rest of us were just puttering around the house.
Around 9:00 a.m., we heard part of a tree fall from our neighbor’s yard onto the fence that divided our properties in the back. Jason and Jenna climbed up on the kitchen counter to look out the window, as I stood behind them surveying the damage.
As we looked out the window at the damaged fence, something else very startling caught my attention. It looked to me like the big fir tree about 15-20 feet away from the kitchen window in our backyard was dancing. It sort of slowly lifted up and twirled to the right, settled back down, and then slowly lifted up and twirled to the left. It literally looked like it was dancing a slow ballet. It was an amazing sight to see.
Now, this was no ordinary fir tree. As it grew, it had split fairly low so that it had two trunks going at least 60 feet or so into the air. It was a big tree!! The trunks were situated so that one was toward the house and one away from the house.
All of a sudden, I realized the tree was no longer dancing, it was falling right toward the house…right toward the kitchen window we were looking out. I grabbed Jason and Jenna off the counter and turned to run. By the time I got to the kitchen doorway, it was all over.
Thankfully, the tree turned as it fell so that one trunk landed on the roof to the right of us and one landed on the roof to the left of us. The top of one on the left snapped off from the impact of hitting the house, and it whipped back in through the window over the front door to the house and a branch went through the front door.
There were several things that saved us that day. We weren’t at the dining room table where we normally would have been. Eric was still cozy in his bed and the rest of us were watching the storm out the kitchen window – just in time to run as the tree fell. If the tree had not turned as it fell, it would have landed with both trunks right on top of us, of that I have no doubt. If we had been closer to the front door or going down the stairs to the basement, we could have been hit by the treetop coming through the window above the door or by the shattering glass. Also, our landlord just recently (finally!!) had re-roofed the house, replacing any damaged wood. Being an older house, it had fairly thick and solid joists which gave it more strength to absorb some of the impact of the falling tree. Because the trunk of the tree split, the weight of the tree was divided between the two trunks. The larger, heavier trunk came through the roof above the dining room table right where the kids would have been doing their schoolwork on any other day, and the smaller trunk landed halfway across the length of the house above the front door (causing damage to the plumbing tree of the house, front window above the door, and the door) but didn’t come all the way through the roof.
I called Joe at work, asking him to come home right away because a tree had fallen on the house. He made it back across the I-90 floating bridge just before they closed it because of the wind. I called our landlord and had a hard time convincing him that a tree had actually fallen on the house (one I had tried to get him to cut down) and that the damage was more than something his aging father could climb up on the roof and fix. (Our landlord was something else, I must say!)
The city where we lived sustained the greatest number of damaged homes per capita in the area. Many, many other houses were damaged or destroyed throughout the area. Winds in some areas reached that of a category 1 hurricane. Buildings downtown Seattle swayed in the wind, making people nauseous. Power was out for days. Six people died and many others injured. But, none of us were hurt, just very shaken. I am so very thankful.
The house was so damaged that we had to pack everything up and move it into storage. We had people just show up to help us pack up our entire household in one day. Everything went into storage and stayed there (for months) as we looked for a house to buy. That’s another story.
Anyway, one of the first things I made sure was that all of the close-in trees at our next house were cleared. I couldn’t sleep when it was windy until I felt fairly certain we were out of reach of most potentially-falling trees.
The moral of this story is that you don’t ever forget traumatic events or tragedies. They are imprinted on your life. They become a part of who you are. Your heart doesn’t forget.
We now live in a house with trees close by, and I find that it makes me nervous when the wind howls through the trees as it is today. I don’t so much worry about myself being hurt; I worry about the ones I love. In my ignorance before the tree fell on our house, I knew that trees fell in high winds. I just never imagined one would fall on us. In my ignorance before Jason died, I knew that tragedy strikes families and children die. I just never imagined it would be us. Once you experience a great tragedy or a traumatic event, you never forget that you are not immune. Time passes, but certain things can take you back to that moment when you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not immune from tragedies or traumatic events. None of us are immune.
I am so thankful none of us were hurt that day the tree fell on our home. I am so thankful for the people who rallied around us to help us pack up and move everything we owned in a single day. I am thankful for the people who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a house to buy.
But, I still don’t understand why God protected us that day the tree fell on our house (and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that He did then and many other times), but He didn’t protect Jason from being hit by a drunk driver on March 3rd, 2002. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection for my kids. I feel like sometimes they were protected from danger or harm and sometimes they weren’t. We invested in the lives of others. Sometimes that investment returned to us and sometimes it didn’t. I don’t understand why people we counted on left us so very alone after Jason died. Protection and support one time; no protection and no support another. An exponentially greater tragedy; exponentially less support.
Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Things happen, and I don’t understand why. I know that I now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There are so many things I don’t understand. Someday I hope I will.
© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney