It’s been two years since the world changed.
We still remember.
There were packets of tissues at the end of every row of bleachers, of every row of chairs.
13 days after one of the worst landslides in our nation’s recorded history, most of the tight knit community had gathered in the gym of the middle school in our small town, taking it over until it felt like we were all touching.
Yellow ribbons flashed from every chest, from every jacket stretched over tired shoulders on that windy night: a symbol of our unity. A symbol of our remembrance. A symbol of our grief.
I exhaled from my perch on the edge of a bleacher and watched my father on the ground floor beneath me, in the seats reserved for family members of the deceased, first responders, city officials and pastors. He walked to the front of the gym and a blanket of silence slowly descended over the crowd as he began to pray, opening the service. A service to honor the rescue and recovery workers. To pray for our leaders. To remember our lost.
13 days. We were only 13 days in, and over 30 people had been identified in the wreckage of what had once been a place I loved just a few miles from my home. From my church. There were 43 missing. Neighbors, friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children.
I listened as my father’s gentle voice somehow filled the silent room. Praying for strength. For comfort. Speaking of a deep rooted hope that no mountains could shake.
Our chapel doors had been perpetually open since The Slide, and he had been there, every single day, hauling donations, praying and speaking with a steady stream of people. They came from every corner: The Salvation Army and Red Cross, Rescue and Chaplain teams, The Billy Graham Association, Northwest Baptist Convention leaders, World Vision, mayors, congress people, senators, governors, and even the President of the United States. London, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and Australia had been calling. The Chicago, LA and NY Times had sent their representatives – along with CNN, ABC, NBC, TBN and more. People from around the whole world sent their love.
The chapel doors were open to the ones whose gentle hearts were touched by the news. The chapel doors were open for the grievers whose lives were forever changed, and my father rose with the morning and stayed into the night with open arms to meet them. They came to mourn by the memorial cross my mother had so carefully decorated with beautiful flowers in the rain, such a vibrant sign of life set out on State Route 530 so close to where the road officially closed.
This sketch is from the beautifully illustrated article by Richard Johnson – Oso: a Village Waiting to Grieve
I watched from above as the family members heard the stories from the perspectives of the first responders, as their grief seemed to strike anew. My heart ached and I wiped away the persistent cold evidence.
I spotted the couple who had left their home minutes before the mountain fell, destroying their entire community. The ones who I had met minutes before the service started, the ones who had told me that though they’d lost everything, they knew without a doubt that God had a plan for their lives.
Couple pictured months later during the memorial walk, standing in front of what was once their driveway.
These were the people of the slide.
I wrapped my arms around my knees, and that’s when I saw her. She made her way down the center aisle of the reserved floor section, nothing particularly noticeable in her plain gray sweatshirt, converse or simple dark ponytail. I recognized her immediately. I’d seen pictures of her face on every news station for the past 13 days, next to her beautiful fiery haired mother and her perfect 4 month old baby girl.
I watched her as she walked. There was no red haired companion. Her arms were disturbingly empty.
As the service continued, I couldn’t keep my eyes from returning to her down below me, thinking about the beautiful young woman just my age who had lost more than I could even imagine.
I’d seen her on tv multiple times, telling the world that her strength had come from the mother and child she’d lost; that she had hope for the future. She believed in better tomorrows, in new life for the community, in courage and hope for the brokenhearted ones.
These were the people of the slide. The slide that state geologists estimated consisted of about 7 million cubic yards of soil mixed with boulders and thousands of large trees as it fell fell from the mountainside, covering an area equal to 545 football fields and more than 10 feet deep.
I hadn’t been home that day that everything changed. I’d been hours from that road, deep in the woods: promising my future to the boy who’d just asked for it. I became engaged the day of The Oso Slide, at nearly the same time the mountain fell.
We came home to the wreckage, the evacuation, the confusion and grief as my dad went in to help the survivors. As my sister-in-law’s family joined the recovery mission on the field, a rescue team that was over a thousand strong.
We had decided to start a family on a day that reminded us that the ones we love are everything.
It’s been two years. Today I drove up the winding two lane road through the mountains to the moonscape and watched as family members placed bright yellow flowers on the mounds of earth that still rose high above the new road. A couple of children chased each other near the 43 memorial trees, fresh yellow ribbons flapping in the wind. There was life here, in the flowers, in the baby trees, in the families who remembered.
Two year ago a new chapter in my family started. That day brought new life into mine, and now even more new life is coming from that very morning when promises were made. Despite what we all believed, despite the tears and the doctors and the sleepless nights: two pink stripes showed up on that test in that coffee shop bathroom. My mind automatically went back to the morning when it all started in the woods; the morning he’d quietly asked for my hand. The happiness and the mourning surrounding the events that changed our small world. My thoughts went back to her: the woman I had seen in a full gymnasium who had lost too much to comprehend.
The night I saw her, I’d pushed through the yellow ribbons and walked down the gym stairs until I’d hit the ground floor, slowly making my way toward that gray sweatshirt. I’d taken the chain from my neck and placed it in her hand when our eyes met, intending to offer nothing more than a tiny gesture of love and a shared hope, reminding her that the community, and even the strangers cared for her loss and her heart.
But something strange happened.
As I walked out into the windy night, it was her testimony that gave me hope.
Hope for that night. Hope for tomorrow. Hope for life and light in the days to come.
Hope for this day, as I sit here listening to the rain in this house that now holds one extra tiny heartbeat within me.
These are the people of the slide.