Beaten down to glory

The Alabama that awoke to an ugly morning one year ago today was beaten down and weary.
Her unemployment rate was 9.3 percent, and close to 20 percent of her residents were underemployed. Many of her factories had closed and more were at risk.
Because her people struggled to find work, she was almost broke.
She was, most of all, conflicted. Financial pressures meant she had to reduce her expenses, but her people were deeply divided on what she should cut. She was divided by immigration and religion and race and politics. She was the subject of derision from other states and nations, a weary spectacle.
The Alabama that awoke to rain and wind on April 27, 2011, was tired. Her robe was tattered and her slippers threadbare. Her simple hope was to make it through another day.
And what a day it was.
The stooped lady, already on the ropes, was pummelled. Sixty-two tornadoes slammed her, from Choctaw County in the southwest to Jackson County in the northeast. They wiped out homes and businesses and factories. They destroyed entire towns.
The punches flew all day, from 4 in the morning to 10 at night. They killed 248 of her people and injured far more. They devastated Hackleburg and Phil Campbell and Mount Hope. They exploded through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. They pounded Lawrence and Limestone counties.
The tired lady could do nothing but cling to the ropes, bloodied. As the world watched, all that seemed to hold her upright was the force of the blows.
The beating ended and everyone waited for her collapse: for her gnarled hands to release the ropes, for her weathered face to hit the mat.
But something happened to that weary lady as she absorbed the blows.
Maybe she remembered she had survived worse in her 192 years. Maybe the suffering awoke her compassion. Maybe she realized what bound her people together was greater then what divided them. Maybe she found strength in God.
Or maybe she was just too ornery to give up.
Whatever happened, the lady who stepped from the ropes the night of April 27 was not the same one that limped out of bed that morning.
She was strong, possessed with a staying power that tornadoes leaving a 130-mile path could not match. She was loving, cradling her people and healing their wounds. She was single-minded. She was proud.
For all of us, this one-year anniversary brings terrible memories. For some, it brings new waves of mourning and grief.
But it should also bring joy. As a people, we prevailed. We took one of the worst beatings any state has endured and we refused to go down.
Engraved beneath a memorial to little Edgar Mojica at Phil Campbell elementary school’s new playground are words intended to sum up his spirit. They also describe the spirit of a state that found forgotten strength in the midst of the onslaught:
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”


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