The day after Rosh Hashana, we cover our windows with aluminum shutters.
Hurricane Matthew threatens.
Putting up the shutters is tedious and physical. Breezes cool us, but the sun is unrelenting. The birds are not singing in the trees. With the penetrating heat and tiresome work, this is the first Tzom Gedaliah we haven’t fasted in over a decade.
It’s the start of the Ten Days of Awe. Leading up to Rosh Hashana, I’d tried to open all the personal files for inspection, to find incomplete works, to acknowledge missteps, and to propose a renewed sense of mission. And now I want to use this time for strengthening a true direction. But I only have a mind for the basics.
Now regret. Now repentance. Now return.
I know what I have to do. Most of us do. The first step is to stop lying to myself about my own limitations.
A time of open truth, a closer inspection of motivation and obstacles. A time to reflect and rediscover: who is the true me? Who else but me stops me from being me?
And now, after two days of praying and thinking about that and eating huge meals and dozing through sleepy afternoons, I can’t even think about it anymore. We are closing up shop. Guarding our lives. Shutting out the outside. Staying on the side of caution.
I look at my arms, flex my legs and shake them out, stretch my back. Twisting these wingnuts to get these shutters on burns my forearms and shoulders with the strain of the repetitive work that can not stop until every window is battened down like a ship’s hatch.
All there is before me is aluminum and the too near future of the storm. The potential for total destruction crawls at a pace that allows Matthew to build strength. The television people tell us the storm will kill us.
We just came through Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur’s around the corner. And now I can’t stop thinking of death approaching on the roaring winds of this ruthless and deadly storm.
I want to put a mattress by the bathroom just in case we need to pile into the tub holding on to each other and the mattress above us to save our lives from wicked winds erasing the walls around us, shooting debris – pens and pencils, drywall, guitars, and shards of glass – at 200 mph, a destructive force threatening to wreck our home, our livelihoods, our lives.
I know that holding on forever is the only option when the wind comes. When the wind comes I will have no limitations. To prevail is the only acceptable outcome, however broken and bloody matters not. Invoking the spirit of the poem “Invictus,” I get back to putting up the shutters and envision the apocalypse, how we as a family would survive in the wake of Matthew’s rage, how we would fare if total destruction visited here. Improvised weapons, grit, and an unbridled hope that help is on its way but not counting on it in the meanwhile. Fierce as cornered foxes. My imagination takes me to comic book dreamscapes of the heroism of the core four, me and my wife and our two kids, scavenging for calories and supplies, our hyper aware dog Emmi trotting and panting beside us.
Because online I see pictures of Haiti. The damage done. The body count number in the hundreds and reportedly rising. I know nothing of the kind of survival I imagine. So I count on my imagination for now. We’re going to be fine. A mantra as I tighten the wingnuts keeping the shutters in place.
Here I am, Gd, just You and I. When I want to split myself at the seams, I am sealing us from the forces of nature, from flying coconuts and mangoes and porch pumpkins and garden gnomes. The sun reflects in bursts off the aluminum.
Shutting in with as much as we can, with everything we have, shutters tightened and we’re praying for a miracle.
The phones and computers are charged. I go out, like everyone else, for supplies. Flashlights and batteries are gone. Hourly deliveries of water to the stores. We stuff the cart with four packs of 24 bottles, tons of canned tuna and salmon, a twenty pound bag of ice, chips and salsa. My wife cooks all the chicken and chopped turkey and eggs and half the rice and a quarter of a bag of potatoes. We’ve got beer and chips and the ingredients for my special guacamole.
We wait. We watch the news. We read our feeds. We eat.
We listen to the wind. We watch the clouds. We venture out and let gusts of rain lash our faces, our tongues.
I take pictures of all of my bookshelves. I do it lightheartedly because I’m not scared, I tell myself.
These days of awe.
Days of wonder.
Days of fear.
Oh, how I want to have the mind to delve the pits of my broken parts. To be better.
A better husband. Better father to him. Better father to her. In so many ways. A better son. Better friend. Better Yid. In so many ways. A better teacher. Better writer. Better martial artist. Better in so many ways.
But all I can think of is the storm.
We wait with the lights on. We never lose them. Darkness does not come.
We are completely spared.
When it passes, the relief is bittersweet. Cities to the north will not be so lucky.
By the time Yom Kippur comes, there is no longer any thought of danger, no thought of surviving in a post-apocalyptic landscape necessitating all rational self-image to be replaced with colored visions of heroism worthy of boxed pages and movie deals.
We fast. We pray. We introspect. It’s quiet during davening at shul. I am blessed to have opportunities for real attempts at focused and true prayer. Walking home after musaf, some of us speak of the weather. We hope this delightful breeze sticks around for Sukkot. We can breathe free of the tension of fear. Smell that, we say. Can you smell the sea?
Later, the shofar blast seals the deal.
The next day, this morning, I’m home alone. The breeze moves the trees in the back yard. The shutters have to come down. And for that I am feeling thankful. But first I sit under the branches and listen to the birds.
Cover art from Flickr.com.