I never thought I would end up in the middle of an F2 tornado – especially not in Knoxville, Tennessee. Every kid grows up with some irrational fear; mine happened to be storms. I hated strong winds when I was young because I was terrified a tornado would hit my home. My family constantly reassured me that there was a very low, practically zero percent, possibility that I would ever see one in Knoxville. But in August of my senior year of high school, that small possibility became a reality.
When my classmate got sent home from Geology due to his parent’s concern for the weather, I thought nothing of it. Most of my class thought it was actually a bit over the top. I honestly had no idea that it was even going to rain that day. The day went on, sunny and with a perfect breeze. As I was walking down to the gym, I finally began to feel light drops of rain fall down onto my shoulders. The rain picked up so I ran inside. A couple of classmates and I watched as the sky suddenly turned black and heavy drops of rain poured down. We began struggling to pull the door shut as the wind increased in its strength. I saw my friend’s feet lift off the ground in his attempt to get the door shut. We started to panic. We pulled him in and the door swung shut. Running to the bathroom to hide, other grades started to flood into the room. It seemed like the safest place to be.
At my school, every senior is assigned a class “to adopt”. I had Kindergarten. As I saw my kindergarteners rushing into the room, the anxiety I was feeling almost vanished. I saw their tear-filled worried eyes and knew I needed to help them. I ran over to them and quickly had them come sit by me. All I knew at the time was that they needed to see that there was nothing to be scared of. I began talking to them about anything I could think of to get their minds off of the situation.
The storm quickly passed, but it left behind incredible amounts of damage. Providentially, our school was unharmed but every tree in sight had been knocked over, leaving no way for cars to get in or out. We were stuck there, and no one knew what to do about it.
I walked the kindergarteners back to their room with their teachers. Everyone seemed overwhelmed and anxious, so I asked if I could play games with the kids. For the next three hours I sat with that class and played Simon says, freeze dance, four corners, and too many other games to count. But time flew by, and every single kindergartener looked happy.
In the midst of one of my worst fears, I was playing games with five and six-year-olds. As soon as I saw their worried faces, my own worry left my mind. My school had just gone through a natural disaster, but I had just grown in relationship with my adopted class. Helping those kids that day really helped me, too.
In every crazy situation, whether it’s as big as a tornado or not, there can be good that comes out of it. Not only is it sacrificial to help others, but it is fulfilling. The most important takeaway I have from this experience is that putting others’ needs before my own is never a bad idea. I’m thankful for the way that this experience has strengthened my character and positively shaped my outlook on the future.
~Bella Garber is a senior at Paideia Academy in Knoxville, TN