When I teach Calculus, I teach a section in which the area between two functions is calculated. Later, the volume between two three dimensional shapes is calculated using similar techniques. For example, one might take a cube and imagine the volume left if the shape if an ice cream “scoop” of a spherical shape is removed from one side of that cube. I found myself thinking of this particular problem last weekend when I looked at photographs of what had been, until last weekend, the gym at Ursuline College.
After a week of oppressive heat, a storm blew through our part of Ohio last weekend, bringing strong wind and heavy rain that flooded many basements on our street. As I reminded myself of the benefits of not having an actual basement in my split-level home, I discovered an e-mail from my dean talking about wind damage that was found throughout campus, damage that had blown off a wall of our gym. With images of branches blown around our own back yard, I assumed that there were such branches strewn about the campus, and that the problem could be taken care of by a few workers who would pick up the branches quickly and repair a wall to the gym, which I assumed was simply an outer façade that had been torn off. It was not until I received another note from her later that day talking about classes being cancelled for the weekend that I began to suspect that things were worse than I had imagined. But even that did not prepare me for the images on the nightly news of the damage that had been done to the campus by a tornado that had touched down in the midst of the storm. The wall that was torn from the gym was not an outer façade, but an entire wall that had crumbled after part of the roof had been lifted by the wind. The hardwood floors were open to the sun and rain, and basketball hoops swung in the wind. Much of the roof was gone, and what was left of the walls on either side of the gym looked like they had been damaged by a bomb.
Immediately after showing pictures of our idyllic campus contrasted with the damage done by the tornado, the news showed an interview with our president, Sister Diana Stano, who said the only good thing that could be said; “no one was injured.” It was amazing to realize that all that damage had been done and no one was hurt. Indeed, many of the college’s neighbors who had been touched by the tornado had escaped with less damage than could have occurred. Huge trees had been uprooted, but none of them harmed anyone in the homes they had stood near, and property damage was much less than one would have expected. Referring to our Roman Catholic roots, one woman on the news even said that she felt that the tornado had “picked up a prayer at Ursuline.” that had protected the neighborhood.
This was the first tornado that my daughter has had any direct personal knowledge of, and she was scared to hear that a tornado had struck so close to her own home. I cringed when I remembered that we told her only a few weeks ago that the tornados in Oklahoma were far away, and that she was safe here. Alas, she is starting to really realize that such promises made by her parents are not promises that can be kept. Scary things happen everywhere, and as she grows, she will become more aware of this truth.
As I have found myself doing many times in her short life, I held her extra tight that night when I wished her good night, and once again wished that I could protect her from all that is bad and scary in the world. As I did, I thought of the other parents whose children had not been so lucky; the parents of the children in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, and those who sent their healthy children to school one day in Chardon, Ohio and in Newtown, Connecticut. And yes, I was reminded of the parents of Tryvon Martin in Florida, whose child would never come get to come home. I am once again reminded that, in parenting, there are many things beyond my control, and that there are limits to the degree that I can protect my daughter from all of the scary things that blow thorough this world.