“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me,
that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?
“From on high he sent fire, sent it down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet and turned me back.
He made me desolate, faint all the day long.
“This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.”
“The Lord is righteous, yet I rebelled against his command.
Listen, all you peoples; look on my suffering.
My young men and young women have gone into exile.
“I called to my allies but they betrayed me.
My priests and my elders perished in the city
while they searched for food to keep themselves alive.
“See, Lord, how distressed I am! I am
in torment within,
and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious.
Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death.
“People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my distress; they rejoice at what you have done.
May you bring the day you have announced so they may become like me.
“Let all their wickedness come before you; deal with them
as you have dealt with me because of all my sins.
My groans are many and my heart is faint.”
- Lamentations 1:12-13, 16, 18-22
Many years ago, my wife and I visited my parents about a month after a tornado had torn through my hometown of Pontotoc, MS. It had essentially removed the top floor of the antebellum home south of town, costing a fortune to replace. The four-way stop, intersecting two main highways south of town, was also hit with the hills to the northeast of the intersection bare of both trees and houses.
I don’t know if the antebellum home has been rebuilt. There are still no trees on those hills, at least not since my last trip by there. It has been long more than a decade since the tornado. The locals are probably used to it, but for the occasional visitor like me, it just isn’t the same town anymore, because that was the corner of the county that I had lived.
On that visit many years ago, my parents asked us to go for a ride with them. They drove us past the devastation. Even though it had been about a month, there were still people who were sifting through the rubble, looking for things, anything.
When we got back to my parent’s home, my wife pulled me away from my parent’s hearing. She said that she would never ride with my parents again without a clear itinerary. She said, “I felt like a ghoul.” She had looked upon the suffering of others and did not lift a finger to help.
Yesterday, there were deadly tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia. I tuned into a station, dedicated to the weather, to watch a programmed show about wreckers solving problems. Instead, I got extended coverage of the on-going tornado warnings, sightings, and aftermath. At one point, the emergency manager, or the spokesperson for that department for one of the counties that was hit, was on the phone. Her voice was a bit shaky, but she did a very professional job of giving the details of what she was allowed to say, clearly not answering some questions that were asked by the interviewer. Amongst her pleas, she had already said that everyone should stay home and not travel. The roads had to be clear for emergency personnel. There were people looking for survivors. They feared more deaths. They would not accept volunteers to help at the time. This had to be done by the professionals at this point.
It was all very well delivered, although her voice betrayed her, showing her pain, her exhaustion, and her tears. Then the meteorologist asked how she was holding up, as if you had to ask. It sounded like the woman on the phone was about to break down.
The woman on the phone then said one more plea. I don’t remember the exact words, but it went something like this. “Again, I want everyone to stay off the roads. Our emergency personnel need full access to the roads. But it is more than that. People are grieving. They have lost everything, including loved ones. If all you are going to do is look upon someone else’s suffering without lending a hand, stay home. There will be a time in the future for you to do that. But for now, stay home. Please, don’t be a ghoul.”
She was thanked for her time and the connection was broken, but I doubt if the woman could have continued to talk. The last words had been hard to say through her tears.
I remember my youth. There were only three TV channels and the reception on one was iffy. We played outside. We knew how to entertain ourselves. But there was that ghoulish side. You might drive 50-100 miles down the road to see the destruction made by a tornado. At night, if there was an orange glow on the horizon, half the town would gather around the house to watch it burn to the ground. Jerry Clower wrote one of his best stories about the Ledbetter family in such a setting, but I remember riding 10 miles in the car to see an antebellum home burn, too far gone for the firefighters to save. Clower just made the ‘pastime’ into a funny story.
But I have only heard the word ‘ghoul’ mentioned twice. When my wife said it years ago and when an exhausted emergency management person from Alabama said it last night.
I see enough pictures of the destruction on the internet and the news. If I were ever able to go there, I would do so to help.
Please, don’t be a ghoul.
Our prayers in Pennsylvania are with you, Alabama and Georgia.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.