Friday afternoon I packed my family's lives into a duffel bag.
The skies were sunny, but we all knew something sinister was brewing.
I waited for my husband to get home from work so we could shelter with friends who have a basement. I had a few minutes to gather whatever I thought we might need.
Seeing the wake of the May 20 tornado in Moore, I was reminded how random these storms really are.
Homes are turned into giant piles of rubble, but a China cabinet is left untouched. Trees are stripped of their bark, but day lilies still show their bright orange petals.
We have absolutely no control.
I looked around my living room.
What could never be replaced? What could I buy again some day if I had to? What could fit into this bag?
I wept into my hands.
Our homes are the backdrops of our memories. My husband and I began our life together in this house. Our daughter took her first steps on this living room floor.
Moms are often the family secretaries and historians. I had to get this right.
I said a prayer out loud: “Lord, help me get it together.”
I stopped crying and sized up the duffel bag.
I limited myself to the books that were irreplaceable. My grandma's Bible. My grandpa's prayer book. The baby journal my mom kept after I was born. My childhood copy of “Peter Rabbit.”
Nearly all our photos are stored online somewhere, so I tried to grab only the pictures I couldn't replace, like the photo booth strips that my husband and I take every year on our anniversary. I plucked my 3-year-old daughter's birthday photos off the wall. Why haven't I scanned these things already?
I tried to think of what my husband would want. A shiny, black ceramic bowl he made in high school. A photo album. A rumpled picture of him as a toddler with his grandparents.
I scanned shelves and cupboards for other things. I found my aunt's bracelet. I gathered the medals from my half-marathons.
I couldn't find the tiny shirt my girl wore home from the hospital after she was born.
I tucked a Dora the Explorer doll into the side pocket with a pink and orange Dr. Seuss doll, whom our daughter inexplicably named Marjorie. I thought maybe Dora and Marjorie would be the most comforting to her if she was afraid. I brought “Where the Wild Things Are” in case she wanted to read.
I brought just a few practical things, like medicine and clothes for our little girl.
I stashed a few small things in my purse — our passports, rings from my mother and grandmothers, a locket from my great-grandmother. I put a ceramic fish we bought on our honeymoon into a side pocket.
I did one last walk-through and left the house.
The tornado that crashed into Oklahoma City was about a mile from our house — not far considering it was 2.6 miles wide, the widest ever documented.
When we got home, we had standing water and a few branches down.
Most importantly, all of us survived.
I haven't unpacked the duffel bag yet. Maybe it's because it is the only thing I can control about these storms. Maybe I want to hold on to memories just a little tighter.