Western North Dakota has become many different things to so many different people over the last 10 years of an all out and unprecedented economic boom — a refuge. A last resort. A stop along the way. An experiment. An adventure. And for many, a new home.
Last week, it became a place where a family lost their baby to the sky.
And this isn’t my story to tell except that it’s my community and my heart is breaking. In another time of my life here in my hometown, it would have been more likely that I would have known many of the families whose homes were ravaged by a tornado that whipped through a trailer park on the south side of town in the terrifying and devastating moments before midnight.
But then again, in another time, that trailer park was nothing but a field and I was a young girl with plans to leave a place that didn’t yet hold all of these new dreams, let alone my own.
But here we are now, together in this town, together between new stoplights, new foundations and freshly planted lawns, all of us on wobbly knees, all of us so focused on navigating our place here that maybe we forgot about that sky and how it can freeze our pipes and frost bite our skin only to turn around and soak us in sweat before sending down hail stones and ripping homes from the dirt.
And maybe that’s why the lump swelled up in my throat the way it did when I heard of the devastation that occurred while I was lying safe in my bed with my arms around my own baby. Twenty-eight injuries. One child lost. More than 100 people displaced in a town that has yet to become familiar to many of them.
I didn’t want this to be their experience here. I didn’t want this to be the place where a baby lost his chance at a future, where bodies were injured and belongings scattered in the dirt. I didn’t want this devastation to be a chapter in our unpredictable story.
But if we can’t control the sky, we can control how we connect our hearts to our hands and our hands to our actions. And we can carry on the narrative of compassion and neighborly love and muscle that made us a dot on the map in this wild place to begin with.
And that’s what I see happening here now. Even if there’s no blanket soft enough and no hug tight enough to put that baby back in his mother’s arms, at least there’s a community wondering how they might help those new parents bear the weight of their grief.
Because the roads in and out of this town are full of people talking about how they’ve been helped and hurt, how they’re leaving for good or coming to stay forever.
And regardless of the story, I wish nothing for any of us but to hold on to hope. Because the sky can rumble, it can scream and shake us until we break. But in so many ways I’ve come to know it to shine again and that’s the only promise any of us can make here in this place.