Every late winter and into spring, we hear TV news stories telling us how to be prepared for powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes, or hurricanes whenever they might hit. They tell us how to go to the lowest point or interior part of our homes, away from doors and windows; to have a supply of batteries, water, first-aid supplies, etc. Or, if we’re caught outside, to hunker down in a ditch. Schools and even some businesses hold drills to prepare others in case a disaster happens.
Most of us actually already know all those things and that we should be prepared, but how many of us really are? Even those who seem prepared are stunned when such storms strike. The size, strength, and sheer magnitude of natural disasters amaze us and leave us speechless and searching for ways to express the awe and horror they produce in us.
Eighty-four years ago, on March 21, 1932, a massive storm system produced at least thirty-six tornadoes in eight states, ripping through Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. It killed more than 330 people and injured more than 2,100 others. Hardest hit was Alabama. Eight of the ten F4 tornadoes spawned by the system hit that state, killing 270 people.
Such tragedies are stark reminders of a truth that we are too apt to forget: No man knows his time, so everyone should be ready to enter eternity at any moment. Like the instructions to be prepared with our water, batteries, and first-aid supplies, we know what we should do, but too often people are not prepared–for either the temporal or the eternal. Somehow, we think that such things happen only to other people, not to us–until it hits us, and then it’s often too late.
Sixteenth-century English poet and cleric John Donne once ruminated about this very topic. He mused about hearing a bell tolling the death knell for someone in his village, and he found himself wondering for whom the bell tolled. It was always for someone else. But the more deeply he thought about it, the more he realized that the death bell tolls for every man at some point; therefore, we should be preparing for that day when the bell tolls for us. We know not when that day will be, but it will be one day. In his poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Donne wrote,
No man is an island, / Entire of itself. / Each is a piece of the continent, / A part of the main. / If a clod be washed away by the sea, / Europe is the less. / As well as if a promontory were. / As well as if a manor of thine own / Or of thine friend’s were. / Each man’s death diminishes me, / For I am involved in mankind. / Therefore, send not to know / For whom the bell tolls, / It tolls for thee.