We got home from Parkersburg Sunday morning.

I wonder if I’ll ever be able to use that word again without an overwhelming flood of emotions, not the least of which is guilt. And confusion. And just raw, raw, raw… emotion. My perception of home has changed dramatically in the last week.

It is a strange thing to stand in the rubble of the town that you fought so hard to leave. I remembered how defiant I had been, convinced that I was bigger than this place. More, somehow, than these people. It shames me even now to write those words. I left kicking and screaming, hell bent on proving myself.

I ran back desperate to connect with any part of it I could find.

I found it difficult to look them in the eyes, these people I’d abandoned. I’d been so maliciously proud when I’d finally stopped referring to them as Home. I’d moved on. Left them behind. And as they clung to one another I found I was ashamed that I was no longer one of them. How could I tell them now how wrong I’d been? How could I make them understand that this was my home too? How could they believe that my heart was just as broken and shattered and thrown about in the debris as their own?

What a hypocritical slap in the face. My home was not shattered. My house was not lost. It was standing with four walls and a roof, completely in tact 1400 miles away in Florida. My children’s beds would not be found in the trees. Our pictures are safely tucked away in boxes and photo albums. Without telling them when, they knew the moment I arrived that I would be leaving again… back to my life. Back to my home.

And they never will. They will pick through the piles and dust off what they can find, clinging to whatever trinkets of their lives they uncover. They will meet with insurance agents and fill out papers and deposit claim checks. Some will rebuild and some will move on. But all of it will take months, years maybe. And it will never be the same.

And yet in some way, I envied them.

That itty bitty town swelled with love and courage and compassion. They were in this together. Those who weren’t hit by the storm emptied out their souls to help their neighbors and friends. They planted flags amidst the destruction and scrawled “A-P Will Stand Strong” in spray paint against whatever walls they could find standing.

They’ve lost everything – and yet they know where they belong. They know who they are. Mixed among my own self absorbed guilt was tremendous pride. Through their fear, through their devastation, through their incomprehensible loss – they held each other together the best anyone could hope for.

You simply cannot deny or minimize the painful truth that our parents and friends are homeless. Their heartbreak is palpable in the air as you walk down what used to be streets and neighborhoods.

But so too is their spirit. Palpable, I mean. It is as much a living, breathing essence as the tornado itself was. It is impossible to stand in the path of destruction and not be overwhelmed by the fact that so, so many of them are alive. People would meet you in the street and habitually ask “how are you?” and the answer was just too damn big to verbalize.

You are broken. You are scared. You are heart sick. And you are grateful. You are clinging to your loved ones with a sense of joy that you could not have ever possibly understood before. You are crying and you are talking and you are laughing, because God damn it – you can.

And you are home.

Without walls, without rooftops, without furniture or clothing – you are home. Surrounded by those who you have now imagined life without – you are home.

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