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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Fearful (08/23/07)

TITLE: A Frightened Hero
By Petra van der Zande


Mid January 1991.
Taking the Iraqi threats seriously, Israel prepared its citizens for war.
According to instructions, our community - Bill, Walter, Debbie and I – created a “sealed room” and stocked up on tinned food.
A special chemical/gas first-aid course prepared me to deal with possible victims.
Practically and theoretically we were ready.
Emotionally we didn’t know what to expect, which was difficult to handle and very frightening.

“Why don’t you come home to Holland and wait here till it blows over!”
Frantic with worry our family tried to convince us. To no avail.
We were called to comfort God’s people, and then you didn’t run at the first sign of trouble.
But that didn’t mean we weren’t afraid. The anxious feelings and agitation created by the looming war, made us tense during the day and sleepless at night. A feeling of apprehension, unease and disquiet hung like a heavy blanket over the land.
It was coming. But how? And when?
With each passing day, the feeling of dread increased. The mounting tension waited to be released.

January 18, 2 a.m.
This time the wail of the air-raid sirens wasn’t a false alarm, it was the real thing! Hearts hammering in our chest, we jumped from our warm beds and locked ourselves in the sealed room.
While the radio announced that Tel Aviv had been hit by six Scud missiles, our shaking hands made it difficult to put on the gasmasks.
Would Jerusalem be next?

I had difficulty breathing through the mask, and the rubber strips felt so tight. The headache caused by the pressure of the mask made me nauseous. Frightened, I realized I had to vomit, but didn’t dare to take off the gasmask. The “all-clear” had not been given yet, and nobody knew if Saddam Hussein had used poison gas, as he’d been threatening. I vomited in my mask and was forced to take it off.

Finally, after a seemingly endless hour, the all clear siren sounded.
Dazed and spent by the terrifying experience, three of us stumbled back to bed, while one stayed behind on watch-duty.

All workplaces were closed, and only in order to buy groceries we reluctantly and full of trepidation left the house.
Like the dreadful question what might happen when caught out in the open, the gasmask became our faithful companion.
The Iraqi missiles usually fell several times during the night, leaving everyone exhausted from the constant fear and lack of sleep.

A week into the war, people were back at work.
Like them, we tried to keep our daily activities as normal as possible.
While putting up a brave front, underneath we felt tense and “jumpy”.
Noises that sounded like the start-up of the air-raid siren made my heart beat faster; I’d listen intently – was it really an alarm, or just my imagination?

Bill and I were in the supermarket one day when the alarm sounded.
We had only five minutes from the time the sirens went off till the missiles fell. People left their groceries and shopping carts and calmly and quietly took the stairs to the shelter. I was amazed by the stoic bravery of the people around us, which strengthened me. It felt wonderful to be “part” of them.

After each missile attack, all the phone lines were overloaded, making it impossible for frantic family members abroad to get through.
When they finally were able to get us on the line, we usually were the ones that had to calm their anxieties.

We somehow learnt to live with the constant fear of the unknown.
Like Russian roulette, you went to bed and didn’t know what would happen next. God was our peace, but the dangers were real and ever present.

After having dealt for almost two months with terrors from the sky, it was over suddenly.
On the last day of February the radio announced we didn’t have to carry our gasmasks any longer and could even dismantle the sealed rooms.
Now that was a frightening idea! Could we be sure there would be no more dangers from the sky?

But it truly was “over”, and life went back to “normal”.
Israelis praised us for staying put. Abroad, people called us “heroes”.

If the following quote is what you call a hero, yes, then it applied to us,

“A hero is not somebody without fear, but someone who knows what God wants of him and does it - even though he is afraid.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 08/31/07
Wow, you certainly communicated the fear! Sounds like a terrifying ordeal.

I was left with lots of unanswered questions, though. Who is the narrator, and what is his or her relationship to the other people mentioned in the story? They were called to comfort God's people, and the quote at the end indicates that the narrator knows that they fulfilled their mission--but how? What exactly did they do?

I like the oxymoron in your title, and the very real sense of time and place in this entry.
Joanne Sher 09/07/07
Congratulations, Petra. Your entry has placed 10th in Level 3 and 26th overall. The Lists for the Top 15 in each Level and the Top 40 overall is available in the Weekly Results and Highest Rankings forum of our Faithwriters Message Boards.