A New Perspective
By Tom Irmen
We were on our way home to Tellico Plains on Friday, March 2nd when a close friend called to tell us that a tornado had reportedly touched down in Tellico Village, ten miles from where we were at that time, but we continued on. Imagine our surprise when we learned that it was Tellico Plains, and not Tellico Village, that had been struck by this category F2 tornado, packing sustained winds of up to 150 mph.
With roads blocked by emergency personnel, we were unable to determine if our home had sustained the same level of damage as was clearly visible when viewing our tiny community from nearly a mile away. The tornado which touched down at 1:30 pm had cut a wide swath of devastation many hundreds of yards wide, leveling wooded mountainsides as if they had been clear-cut by careless loggers.
As had many of our neighbors, we sought the refuge of a nearby junior high school that had been set up as an emergency storm shelter. This shelter would serve as our temporary home for the next eight hours as we awaited a series of more, potentially dangerous storms that were heading in our direction.
As a huge advocate of small business, having been self-employed for nearly three decades, I enjoy speaking of our prowess, our ability to transform and redefine ourselves, and the resiliency which we exhibit on an almost daily basis. I’ve done this so often that I think I have come to believe that other self-employeds and myself exhibit these unique characteristics unknown to anyone else other than ourselves.
The nearly eight hours I spent in this shelter proved that I could not have been more wrong in my thinking.
Despite the unpredictability that these storms represent, this community of less than 1,000 and county of fewer than 50,000 residents were able to mount a well orchestrated disaster relief effort in hours that took me totally by surprise. It’s impossible to describe the number of agencies represented or the innumerable acts of kindness and compassion that were exhibited throughout the evening, particularly to the elderly whose careworn and lined faces told of a resiliency within these people that had helped them overcome a lifetime of challenges that come from living in a community where median incomes are slightly more than $20,000 annually.
Despite a lifetime of adversity, I did not witness a single case of self pity, anger or resentment, but in the true Tellico Plains tradition, I saw people caring for each other in ways that I never experienced living elsewhere in the country. I saw the elderly lovingly doted upon and children, accompanied by their family pets, including hamsters, entertained for hours with their favorite DVDs.
We feasted on pulled pork, smoked turkey, and real baked beans, all topped off by Mayfield’s ice cream. And in true Tennessee tradition, live entertainment was provided to those whose homes were destroyed and who would be remaining for the night.
These innumerable acts of kindness, compassion, and the efforts by the hundreds of emergency workers who timelessly worked to ease the suffering of so many of their neighbors were overwhelming. Perhaps the resiliency of my self-employed brethren that I tout so often is not our sole domain alone, but rather the innate strength that exists within each of who are tested during times of adversity, and who rise to the challenge, giving selflessly to those in need.
It’s given me a new perspective.