Erma couldn’t explain how it happened. One minute she was in the house; the next she was high up in a palm tree, buck naked, glued to the trunk as though it were her only means of salvation. From this height she could see the gray surf devouring, and then regurgitating, the sands of the shoreline near her home.
The song rolled in with the waves:
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
Everyone had known that the hurricane was coming. No one had any doubt what the next few days would be like if God didn’t gently nudge that boiling cauldron of clouds on the horizon and send it swirling off into someone else’s backyard. Like everyone else, Erma had been nailing everything down that could be nailed, bolting what could be bolted, tying down every possible loose end as death and destruction advanced on the island.
The wind at the edge of the eye sang out:
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
Sand and debris stung her face and peppered her body. She had to get down. Her little boy, Danny, had been in the house too. She had to find him. Her husband had gone to town for extra plywood. Where was he? She forced herself to look down from the dizzying height of her perch. What world had she been blown into? Nothing was recognizable below her. Bits of trees, brush, tin from a roof and chunks of cement and tile were scattered everywhere. Another snatch of song wafted through Erma’s mind.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert … twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.
The awful reality hit home. There was nothing left standing except her valiant tree.
Where was Danny? Erma carefully released her death grip on her new found friend and shinnied down the tree, carving out a new bunch of cuts and scrapes as she went. She needed to find Danny.
Little whirligigs of wet sand kicked at her bare feet and legs. Erma looked around. How far away from home had the wind blown her? She looked back at the tree. Had it even been in their yard?
The prayer place in her mind, never abandoned at any time, gathered the tattered remains of her anxious thoughts, snatched a bit of the song and called out to heaven.
Lord, You sit enthroned over the floods. You promised to give strength to your people. Give me that strength. Help me find Danny. Help me find my husband.
But where? Then she saw it. A bit of cloth almost buried in the sand. She tugged at its tail, wagging bravely in the breeze, and pulled out the remains of one of her husband’s shirts. Scattering sand and rock to the four winds she shook, then hugged it. It wasn’t what he had been wearing when he had left home that morning. There would be no other body attached to it but hers. Throwing on the soggy and torn shirt, Erma began to search in earnest. Nothing — living or dead.
She widened her search until she made contact with other searchers. Still nothing. By now it was late in the afternoon.
“Go to the market in town. That’s where someone might have taken the … boy”.
And the bodies.
But in her heart, Erma held as tightly to hope as she had to her palm tree.
She made her way to the market. Babies were crying, mothers called out for their children, fathers wept over broken bodies, doctors moved through the crowds deciding who could be helped and who couldn’t, aid workers took down names, and compared lists with other lists. It was ordered pandemonium.
Erma didn’t know where to begin, so she simply stood still, waiting for the voice of the song. When it came, it was veiled, covered by another.
She’d know that voice among a thousand and murmured her thanks to God as He wrapped her in the arms of her husband and son.
One song set with the sun, completed its journey through a bruised, but not broken, heart and sang its reprise:
The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.*
*Based on a true story with verses from Psalm 29
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