James: Hey, I sent you an email from the Homeless Coalition. Thought you could do a story on their rehousing assessment for the tornado victims.
Me: Yeah, sounds good.
James: Oh, and the world is supposed to end on Saturday.
Me: What? I thought we had until Dec. 21 of next year.
James: Well, according to this group that just emailed me a press release, it’s supposed to end on May 21 of this year.
By Dec. 21 2012, I was referring to a bunch of nut cases who say the world will fall apart because the Mayan Calendar ends that day. James, however, was referring to another group of nut cases who believe they have cracked some Bible code and found the exact date of the end of days — tomorrow. I don’t mean to be a naysayer, but I heard the leader of the Bible code nuts had a book a while back that said Armageddon would come in 1994. So, he’s 0 for 1 right now.
The apocalypse seems to be big business these days. Every other time I turn on my television, there’s some program detailing the many ways the earth will be decimated. I remember one particular program where the creators interviewed a number of pioneering scientists and compiled a list of all the ways everyone in the world could die — gamma rays, solar flares, a spontaneous black hole or the classic asteroid impact.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the scientists. I’m sure they agreed to participate in the program hoping for a fleeting chance to talk about their research or even just the basics of their field of study. Instead, they answered only questions regarding these incredibly unlikely, yet morbidly tantalizing, catastrophes.
A few days after I found out my wife, Amber, was pregnant, the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. And one day after the largest outbreak of tornadoes since the Great Depression struck Alabama, Amber and I were celebrating our anniversary in an empty restaurant.
We talked about how so many epic disasters had occurred, and whether we were bringing our child into a short-lived world. I scoffed, mentioning Y2K, avian flu, the Cuban missile crisis and the billions of years this planet has enjoyed so far.
When I saw Cordova and Argo after the tornadoes, however, I couldn’t help but think if I was wrong to shrug off this end-of-times talk. I grew up hearing about the legendary tornado that struck in 1974, which is now dwarfed by the April 27 onslaught of twisters.
But all around the devastation, I witnessed people frantically scrambling to help. I talked with first responders working three days straight and burning through their agencies own funds to help. I saw church members moving tons of debris from a complete stranger’s home. I snapped photos of teenage girls organizing piles of donated clothes. I watched local news anchors conduct a telethon that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the American Red Cross. I listened to radio announcers as they helped stock tractor trailer trucks full of donated supplies for Tuscaloosa. I heard about relief crews from New Jersey, and read about Japanese officials donating supplies while still dealing with the aftermath of the tsunami.
I know some people are sick of hearing how great the outpouring was for Alabama. However, we forget how easy it is for a disaster to snatch away all humanity from a community. After the storms, the majority of Walker County residents gave instead of price gouged, offered food instead of hoarding it and embraced those hurt by the storm rather than demanding they keep their distance.
If we are all headed for the afterlife tomorrow, I’m sure thankful I’ll be leaving from Jasper.
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org