By Wendy Hodge

On Sunday, March 3, I woke up ready to tackle the day. A long list of chores that I had been putting off was on my mind…. cooking, laundry, cleaning out, cleaning up…. a check-list a mile long. The payoff? A quiet Sunday night date with my best friend. It was a cloudy day, but this girl had plans!
Within minutes, the washing machine was chugging, the dishwasher was humming and the oven was heating up. Etta James played from my phone, and I danced my way from chore to chore. By noon, I noticed how dark the sky was getting. Thunder began to rumble, and shortly after that, the bottom fell out. Rain poured and the wind blew.
I was so focused on my plans for the evening that I didn’t even check my weather app. I was not oblivious to the storm, but I had no idea how serious things were becoming right outside my window. I heard no alarms…. only Ms. James singing ‘At Last.’
By 3 o’clock I was exhausted and ready for a long, hot shower. I was already tasting the steaks we were going to grill. I could already feel his hand in mine. I’d been looking forward to this for days.
And then my best friend texted. Plans had changed at the last minute, the way plans sometimes do. I stood in the shower and felt sorry for myself. I’m ashamed to say that I had a pity party.
Hadn’t I worked hard all week? Weren’t we both entitled to some time to relax together?
Didn’t the universe know I had plans?
And then I began getting texts and calls – friends and family checking to see if we were safe. I curled up on the couch and opened Facebook. Only then did I realize just how tragic things had become. Homes gone. People missing. Fatalities.
It got very still and quiet in that living room as I sat and read and let it all sink in. That’s how it is with storms. So much noise and panic and fear. But in the midst of it there is profound silence.
As if we need to be brought to that moment to regain our perspective.
Yes, we had plans, my best friend and I. But I was reminded, on that late afternoon, that our plans are not really our own. They are an attempt to control the chaos that is life itself. I am ashamed of my self-pity. I didn’t get the dinner I wanted or the time with my best friend. But I was alive on Monday morning to make new plans. And 23 of my neighbors were not.
As the next few days unfolded, we all learned the death toll. We read the stories of loss and terror. We saw the faces of the missing. Being the small community we are, everyone knows someone who knows someone who lost a home or a father or a friend or a child. The numbers are staggering. The pictures are heartbreaking. We will never know the true measure of what we lost…. the unrealized potential of each person who is gone in an instant or the depths of sorrow that the countless survivors will carry with them until they die.
But we do know exactly what Beauregard and Opelika and Auburn are made of. We know what kind of people live here. We are, above all our differences, neighbors. In the truest sense of the word. Churches filled, literally, to the rafters with donations. Blood donations to full capacity.
Outpouring of funds and necessities from huge corporations and struggling individuals alike.
One woman who lost five family members came out to serve hot food to the rescue workers. An elderly woman on social security made fresh biscuits for law enforcement – and carried those platters of food in her wheelchair. Local veterinarians and animal shelters have opened their doors and offered free boarding for displaced pets. Person after person on Facebook has offered baby clothes, furniture, food, even a room to stay in to anyone who needs it.
The country has been watching Lee County, and they have seen what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
Many years ago, when my sister died, the first thing I saw when I entered her empty house was a calendar hanging on the wall. It was full of appointments and reminders for herself and her boys. Plans. Plans she never got to fulfill. My best friend has a calendar he keeps that belonged to someone he loved. It was the only thing she wanted for her last Christmas on earth. She never got to turn past January. Plans. Plans she never got to witness unfolding.
A few weeks ago, a co-worker gave me a wooden cube. It’s painted black, and each of the six sides has a message in white script painted on it. It sits on my desk, and my favorite of the messages is this one: “She’s got plans!” I look at that block differently now. I’m wiser, I hope.
Certainly humbled and grateful. Plans are good, but gratitude for the gracious bounty of our lives is what makes us better humans. Better neighbors.
I am proud to be from Opelika. Always have been. The last few days have only deepened my love for this place and the people who live here. I plan to stay a while longer, if the universe allows.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.


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