Sports can be a wonderful escape from reality.
Sometimes, though, reality will not allow escape. Sometimes, reality demands your full attention and will do anything - rip off your roof, toss your car into the air, demolish your neighborhood - to remind you that, when it wants to assert itself, reality can leave you with no escape route at all.
That was what reality did to Tuscaloosa on Wednesday afternoon. It ripped our community wide open, leaving a mile-wide gash through its heart.
Even for those lucky enough to escape with their lives, those lives will be profoundly changed. Not every home in Tuscaloosa was damaged or destroyed, but every home was affected. In due time, all the other distractions - football games or NFL Drafts or royal weddings or any of a million other diversions - will return.
But for now, none of them really matter.
The tornado itself was a few minutes of roaring, generator-popping, tree-snapping terror. For those who survived, that was followed by a moment of relief, of assessment of the status of personal safety, of family safety, of the status of a home. Most of Tuscaloosa, I suspect, was without electricity. What the rest of the country experienced through television, or radio, or social media, or traditional media like The Tuscaloosa News, we - the people of Tuscaloosa - saw without at a filter.
This was reality saying "I will not be ignored."
This was the sight of a friend's house, cleaved almost entirely in two by a falling tree. It was the encounter, along University Boulevard, with dazed residents of Alberta City - one almost is tempted to use the word "refugees," since the devastation they left behind them is rarely found outside a war zone.
Many were walking to the nearby hospital, some because they were injured, others because they simply knew of no other place to go. It was one of Tuscaloosa's brave first responders, checking our neighborhood for the injured, his voice quivering as he described the human suffering he had just witnessed in Rosedale Courts.
It was a morning walk through what used to be Cedar Crest, a neighborhood that must be referred to in the past tense because - there is no euphemism for this - it no longer exists in any recognizable form. It was the face of parents, torn between their joy at seeing their college-student children alive and their horror at seeing what they had survived.
How do you escape from that? How do you respond in any sports-related way, except to look squarely at reality, shake your head, throw up your hands and say, "You win"?
The only alternative is to say, "You won that round - but we do not think the fight is over."
That's what Tuscaloosa has to do. That's where its sports figures - and its teachers and its musicians, its cooks and its doctors and its retired citizens and its children - can all respond.
It won't be easy as first. But if everyone pulls together - a lesson that sport, at its best, teaches - than the community can survive, then thrive again. Then it go back to what it does best: working together, learning together and enjoying sports - Alabama or Auburn, the NFL or NASCAR, football or basketball or swimming - together.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or at 205-722-0225.