Although Hurricane Irma, the fiercest tempest ever spawned by the Atlantic Ocean is now a collective memory and a historical footnote, it impacted me deeply. I found myself reliving one of the more terrifying moments in my life—hunkered down in a basement apartment in Ramallah hiding with a Palestinian family during a war that changed the face of the Middle East. Days before the war, my mother sent me a telegram: WAR IMMINENT; TAKE FIRST BOAT OR PLANE TO CYPRUS.
In 1967 my mother chewed her fingernails to the bone. In 2017, it’s my turn. I am the anxious mother praying for the safely of my daughter Minka, my sweet 6 and 8 year old grandkids, my 102 year old mother and brother who survived the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam. All hunkered down in Lake Worth, Florida, hoping the walls of Minka’s house and bullet proof windows will protect them from a storm of unimaginable magnitude. My mind is riveted on this hurricane. I hardly think about anything else. I track the storm incessantly. The cone of the storm is predicted to go over Minka’s house. I think of the Angel of Death passing over the homes of the Jewish slaves. But God does not look like Charlton Heston as I was drawn to believe in my younger days. The Creator looks like the eye of Irma–awesome, churning, spiraling, growing, shrinking, ever changing, terrifying and beautiful in ways beyond my human intellect to grasp.
My imagination moves the storm east, into the Atlantic Ocean. I fear being cut off by phone. A day before the storm hit Minka installed a land line, as added insurance to be able to communicate with the outside world. The Ft. Lauderdale Airport closed twelve hours before she and the kids were scheduled flight. I cannot stop wishing they were with me in New Mexico. My mother absolutely refused evacuation. “Let the storm take me away,” she railed in a Shakespearian manner. “I am not leaving.” I imagine conversations with my family after the storm. There is only before and after the storm.
Am I being punished for being an intransigent daughter in my youth? I remember answering my mother’s frightened telegram to evacuate Jerusalem. “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” War seemed impossible, an abstract nightmare that happened in history books and movies.
Now I feel as powerless as she must have felt. Friends tells me to light candles and pray. I’ve been up all night. The intensity of my prayers let me know that before today my prayers have been rather tepid. I pray for the safety of my family and for all people caught in the storm’s path.
Miraculously the eye of the storm traveled the west coast leaving Minka and family Between tornado warnings Minka, Aiden and Maya emerged from the safety of the windowless bathroom. My mother and brother from the windowless laundry room. When the winds died down my grand daughter would go upstairs, curl up beside the newly installed land line and read to me. She has just broken the code. Green Eggs and Ham has always been one of my favorite books but never did the word so poetic, the cadence so lovely that I wanted to dance. Like Sam-I-Am’s friend I too love green eggs and ham and am incredibly grateful for the safety of my family.
The day after the storm I got a phone call from Faisal. He wanted to know how Mama Janet had fared. “She is safe and back home in her condo,” I told him. “I’m so happy to hear that Erees. I was so worried about her.” It touched me deeply that Faisal was also incredibly grateful for the safety of my family, or should I say our extended family.