Burdens We Weren’t Meant to Carry

“Obsessed” from the film Twister (1996, Universal Pictures)

I’ve always loved extreme weather. Not the destruction it leaves in its wake, but the wildness and mystery created by our planet’s atmosphere. Probably why the film that the clip above is from was one of my favorite movies when I was a teenager. I can still recite every line, including this scene, I’ve seen it that many times. I’ve always been fascinated with storms and the science of weather. Sometimes it feels almost childish to think we can use technology and science to predict things that are so wild and beyond any human control. And yet, scientists have been doing just that for decades trying to warn us about the dangers of global warming. A couple of current extreme whether events sparked these thoughts today. And I promise this all leading somewhere.

As I type this, Hurricane Ida is making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, the most powerful hurricane to make landfall there since Katrina in 2005. Nothing can stop a hurricane once it’s in motion, nothing short of supernatural forces. Much like the tornado that destroyed Jo’s childhood home and took her father’s life in the aforementioned film; Twister (1996). The only thing that could have prevented the increase of these storms and extreme whether would have been to listen to those scientists who’ve been warning us all along. Of course, we know that the almighty dollar and human greed has won out up until now, and here we are. But that’s a whole other post I’m not qualified to write.

This clip from Twister, particularly at around the 3:35 mark, is one of the best scenes ever made, in my humble non-movie-critic-opinion. Hunt and Paxton (may he Rest In Peace) have indelible chemistry on screen. And Hunt’s intensity and conviction throughout the movie was something I heavily identified with, and even admired, as a teenager. That teenager was a 90’s youth group kid, trying to fit in at church and stay under the radar at my public high school. She had no idea she was living (and struggling) with undiagnosed ADHD. As a quintessential Scorpio sun and an enneagram 8 with untreated childhood trauma- intensity was my middle name. Too much. Overdramatic. But thanks to the trauma I could blend in like a chameleon wherever I went. Reading the room, accessing people’s personalities in seconds, finding out what made them happy and then doing or saying what I needed to not stand out. Always making sure to not call too much attention to myself, because the meek inherit the earth or something.

Looking back now, I’m wondering if there was a more subconscious reason I felt strangely comforted by this particular scene from the movie. The wind is howling, the rain is assaulting their faces, Jo’s hair swirling wildly around her head as she tries to save her precious scientific instruments she had dedicated her entire life to. Bill gets out of the truck screaming over the wind “Jo! Stop! You’re obsessed!” Jo jumps off the ground and shoves him as hard as she can, screaming back “No! You don’t understand, you’ve never seen it miss this house and miss that one and then come for yours!” Bill sees her pain and says “Christ, Jo, is that what you think it did?” and then a moment later he tries the only way he knows how to bring her back down to reality, “Jo, things go wrong, you can’t explain it you can’t predict it, killing yourself won’t bring your dad back!”

Of course the camera cuts to the radio in Dusty’s bus-turned-weather-station and Bill’s fiancé’s face as she hears him say “look at what ya got right in front of you… …me, Jo.” Clearly the film focuses on Bill & Jo’s past relationship and Jo’s childhood trauma. But romance aside, I think Jo and Bill’s conversation on that hill comforted me in a different way.

See, in evangelicalism, scripture and words inspired by scripture are used to explain away every bad thing in this world. Inaccuracy aside, it’s an exhausting way to live. Especially for someone who already feels as though they’ll never fit the mold they are told they should fit into. I see myself in Jo, screaming into the wind about every tragic thing I’d felt so strongly in this world (hello, ADHD and an 8) and in my case, angry that a supposedly loving god could let that all happen. And the only explanation my parents or mentors or peers could give me was shit like “his ways are higher than our ways” or “when he closes a door he opens a window”—and I was supposed to be ok with that. There was no Bill in my life willing to admit “things go wrong, you can’t explain it you can’t predict it…”

In a bizarre twist of trauma or fate or just how my brain works, from an early age I took comfort in the things I could not control. Maybe it’s the ADHD or trauma or combination of the two, but the adrenaline rush from knowing something is happening to me that I do not and cannot be responsible for was a welcome reprieve from the day-to-day grind of constantly being worried about my own sin and repentance and salvation. A weight is lifted when I cannot control an outcome and am left with whatever nature gives me. Like a tornado. Or a hurricane.

That doesn’t make the tragedy less painful or devastating. The comfort comes with knowing I no longer have to have an answer for it. I don’t have to recite a bible verse and then ignore my pain. If I’m allowed to acknowledge “bad shit happens and it’s beyond my control,” it allows me to stop blaming myself and instead let’s me lament for what is lost. It allows me to grieve. I am allowed to feel all the feelings I was never allowed to feel inside of the belief system that raised me and formed my identity. My true Core Self feels it all and feels it deeply. And there’s nothing wrong with me because of that.

Today I watch that clip from Twister and sob. I weep with Jo for the tragedy of losing a parent she deeply loved, for the confusion her childhood self, left wondering how and why. For the years she spent trying to make sense of her past and in doing so missed out on the care and compassion that was being offered in the present. In a lot of ways I’ve spent the last few years much like Jo spent her adult life—trying desperately to make sense of a childhood I didn’t choose while my adult life has kept moving along at an unbridled pace. Staying present, while trying to understand your past so that you can reshape and discover your own true identity is in a word, exhausting.

Most days I feel just like Jo, standing on that hill. Inside my head the black and green clouds are hovering overhead, spitting rain in my face as I try to wife and mom and adult. I don’t know if the storm in my brain will ever subside, though the ADHD meds help some. What I do know is I will never not be drawn to the eye of a hurricane, or the rain band of a supercell, or the healing power of learning from our past so we can be present for our future.

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