When Life Throws You a Tornado

The most recent topic in our Family Legacy Planning series is the importance of resilience. Specifically, I wrote last week of how Laurie and I overcame the heartbreak of a giving birth to a stillborn child by drawing strength from ancestors who’d endured inhumane atrocities yet survived. Reactions to that post were heartfelt and affirming, as many shared how they have likewise overcome rough times. Like me, their resilience was fueled by the strength of their family ties, as well as the support of a loving community of friends. One response particularly grabbed me. Here’s what my San Francisco colleague David Eckstein, CFA sent me:

I’d like to add my voice to the many who are thanking you for sharing your stories. This one reached me in particular. My wife and I have also faced tragic misfortune, including suddenly losing the oldest of our three sons a few weeks before his 27th birthday. Such times test our resilience and also tell us whether we have invested enough in our family and community to receive the support we need to get through times we can’t handle alone. We have been fortunate in that regard and consider ourselves blessed in spite of our losses. Thank you for all you’re doing to make a difference in your family, friends, clients and business acquaintances. It’s working!

The words “we have invested enough in our family and community to receive the support” particularly struck me. The support we receive isn’t automatic. We have to invest in these relationships, so we will be there for each other when needed. Like everything else in building a legacy, we have to be intentional to make it happen. Building a family legacy is arguably the most important investment we make in our lives.

I’ll expand on a story I’ve shared before about recovering from the 2000 tornado that destroyed my law office, and how that resilience was also empowered by the support of family and community. Leaving work on March 28, 2000, the sky was clear and there was no warning of the impending tornado that soon swept through downtown Fort Worth destroying the Bank One Tower and other structures. This was before technology was as advanced, when we were still dependent on paper. I didn’t even own a cell phone yet (what we then called a “car phone”). The Blum Firm was suddenly homeless, without access to any of our files. This is when my support group came to the rescue. Lifelong family friends Morty Herman and the Schuster family were early responders. Morty and the lawyers at Brown Herman law firm squeezed up and made room for us to office with them. When Bank One gave us a one-hour access to return to our destroyed space to grab belongings, Stuart Schuster loaned us a large van from their Marvin’s Electronics store. Allen Schuster provided us boxes from his storage facility business. “Take as many as you need.” My father showed up at my house and handed me $10,000, saying: “This may come in handy.”

But the number one hero in this story is my brother Irwin. As I shared in previous emails, we lost Irwin five years ago to pancreatic cancer, at age 65. One of my favorite Irwin memories is how he sprang into action to help me deal with the tornado devastation. Irwin wasn’t a man of words; he was a man of action. Irwin and I picked up the van and the boxes and drove to Bank One. Irwin drove the van like he was a professional truckdriver, undaunted by its massive size. Entering the parking garage, the rack on top was too tall for the height restriction and bounced off. Unfazed, Irwin hopped out, threw the rack in the back of the van, and kept rolling along to park in the garage. We were on a mission. We had a strict one-hour time limit to grab all we could.

We entered the office space. I was in shock. Everything in the office looked as if it had been picked up and thrown across the office. Desks and furniture were toppled over and broken. Wet paper was everywhere, full of glass chards from the shattered windows that imploded inward into millions of razor-sharp pieces. The building was formerly a glass tower that now had no exterior walls. Live wires were hanging everywhere. Birds were flying through the space. I was paralyzed. Irwin wasn’t. Irwin began assembling boxes, put on work gloves and a safety helmet, and started tossing in everything he could grab, filling box after box. I finally took his lead and joined in. We had to get moving; we only were allowed one hour.

We stacked the boxes floor to ceiling into elevators, then managed to force them all into the van. As we hit the highway, Irwin could only see out the side mirrors (though I’m not sure he ever looked). He’d hit the gas pedal and change lanes; I guess other vehicles just dodged us. Exiting I-30, he pulled into the drive-through at Whataburger for a burger and soda, and he ate it while driving home to store the boxes in my garage. Even for those who didn’t know Irwin, I’m sure you get the picture.

Irwin always looked out for me. He had a “take charge” personality and he enjoyed being the protective big brother, even well into our adult years. This story brings me to a new topic I’ll be developing in coming emails: the value of family INTERDEPENDENCE, as opposed to the customary concept of raising kids to be INDEPENDENT. My colleagues Jim Grubman and Tom Rogerson are also great advocates for this concept. I am grateful Irwin and I were interdependent, so we were there to provide family support for each other when needed. Life throws us curveballs and tornados. We need to be there for each other.

Marvin E. Blum

Fort Worth’s Bank One Tower, including The Blum Firm law office, destroyed by the 2000 tornado.