Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
— C.S. Lewis
We lost our innocence that day on the Sherwood Park freeway. We didn’t know about tornadoes. Of course we had seen pictures and news reports, but we had never experienced a wind that moved oil tanks or leveled factories or wrapped cars around steel lamp standards or sucked people out of their vehicles. On that July day in 1987 we came up from under the overpass on the freeway out of Edmonton moments after the tornado passed and saw the devastation. The tornado was moving on to a residential area where other people, like us, were expecting only a thunder-storm. Many of them died.
There are still arguments going on about whether it was an F4 or F5. Tornadoes are so rare this far north that we had no warning system. All I know is that like the neighbourhood where I used to live, my sense of stability was tossed in the air and dumped in a field of debris somewhere. It could happen here. For years my eyes watched the clouds on hot summer days when we visited family on the prairies. They still do.
As we were driving from Edmonton to Calgary we were caught in a rainstorm so heavy we had to pull over on the shoulder of the highway until it lightened up. A few miles down the road I saw this cloud. Since I was driving I asked my husband to get a photo out the window on my phone. As much as I love cloudscapes I knew it wasn’t wise to stop. It was wiser to pray and keep moving south. Two of our adult kids and their families were also somewhere on the road oblivious to what a cloud like this might bring. I watched the cloud slowly break up and breathed a sigh of relief when they all showed up at our destination.
The next day our daughter and daughter-in-law and five of our grandchildren were in a van driving into the city when signs beside the highway flashed a tornado warning. They saw the ominous clouds and the beginning of a funnel cloud and decided to turn back. Apparently the tornado did touch down briefly before dissipating. It was a minor event, but I am glad for a warning system we never had in 1987.
We grew up with parents who lost their innocence when they experienced war and famine and economic disaster and epidemics of diphtheria and polio that killed and maimed. Many of us do not understand the courage it takes for some people to go on with their lives after trauma. Some of the people from our parents’ generation learned to walk in freedom from fear or expectation of the same thing happening again; some did not. They lived lives hunkered down in sad negativity, protecting themselves from disappointment.
Some learned to be watchmen and put up early warning systems because they had seen this before. They gave good advice: avoid debt, don’t fall for nationalistic political rhetoric or give a leader too much power; research preventative medical practices and take advantage of things like dentists, vaccinations and vitamins; practise water and land conservation methods; plan ahead for natural disasters; expose and deal with crime and corruption in high places before it becomes systemic; don’t ignore poverty and injustice; make amends; forgive; stop the quarrel before it breaks out.
There are watchmen with prophetic gifts who, like weathermen, can automate warnings, “Turn back. This way danger may lie.” It would be unfair of them not to give warnings if they see that hazards lie ahead like weather conditions that could produce a tornado. But — warnings need to be for the purpose of freeing people and en-couraging the virtues to flourish, so they will not be hampered by fear or overcome with a sense of dis-couraging condemnation.
The warning my daughter and daughter-in-law saw prompted them to go in another direction and take the children swimming at a pool in a town outside the danger zone. They had a marvelous time laughing and splashing and enjoying being together.
I am grateful for warnings, but even more for re-directions that instill courage to live fully.
Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.
(from Soldiers of Christ Arise by Charles Wesley)