Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.
As I struggle to keep my balance while Irma is trying her best to rip the window louvers out, it was actually the Caribbean gospel version sung by Marvia Providence that was playing in my head and on my lips. I sang my prayer over the howling winds in hopes that the Lord would keep me safe ’til the storm passes by.
I heard the ugly cracking sound of the louvers being pried out of joint, and rushed over to the window. The natural thing to do was to turn the handle in hopes that I could close them shut but my attempt was futile. The handle kept winding infinitely but the louvers only flapped in submission to Irma’s every whim. With each tug open and slam shut of the louvers, I was slapped in the face by rain thrust through the screen. I don’t remember how long I was standing there panicking about how to secure the compromised window but at some point, God gave me an idea. How do I know it was God? The “Swiss army knife gene” that my grandmother and mother dominantly expressed throughout their lives seems to have missed me altogether… so whenever I have a MacGyver moment, I know that it has to be nothing short of divine intervention.
Among the things that my mom and I transferred to higher ground while we were hurricane-proofing the place was a small rectangular area rug. Suddenly, I felt a gentle yet urgent supposition to use it as a barrier against the window. It didn’t necessarily ‘make sense’ but other than that, my mind was helplessly blank–so I proceeded with these instructions. I unrolled the rug and tried my best to smooth the stiff fibers out and into the left and right corners of the space. There was excess material on both sides since the window was taller, vertically, but I wouldn’t have been able to reach the top without standing on something. So there’s a woven floor accessory between me and 180-mile-per-hour sustained winds, and opposing forces were playing tug-of-war in my consciousness while opposing gusts literally pushed me around. First, I played “what-if” and mulled over the chances of a projectile hurtling through the window… the rug… and possibly me. #nobueno Then, there was the uptempo island praise anthem Hear My Cry that was playing on repeat down inside my heart as I sang along out loud.
I stood holding the rug against that window for what seemed like forever, possibly an hour or two–all the while, shifting my stance from one foot to the other to steady myself while holding something like a forward wall plank position. To complete my workout, Irma provided unexpected gusts of resistance that made tears roll down my face as I gasped every time I was jolted out of place. The upper part of the window that remained exposed and storm spray flew in over my head; the rug definitely wasn’t waterproof, so I got quite a ‘shower’. My mother felt so sorry for me by the time she relieved this drenched, exhausted mess. I simply collapsed into her embrace when she said how proud she was of me for being such a trooper and relieved me from my post. Whatever upper body/core strength I had was drained as my arms tingled, hanging limply at my sides. I made my way through inches of water on the ground to sit on the edge of my bed to let my legs rest for a bit. Then, mom and I teamed up as rug sentinels until she had a MacGuyver moment and positioned some loose tension curtain rods vertically to prop the rug in place so we both could move away from the window.
The sun had already set when the furious winds started to cease and desist. Praise Jesus, we made it through this historic day without being impaled or otherwise injured! The sigh that began with relief ended in despair as we looked around at the waterfalls, rivers and lakes we had to contend with. The broom-and-dustpan approach wasn’t gonna put a dent in this situation so we decided to skip the middle step and just… well, see for yourself.
This is us… literally sweeping water straight out the front door as Irma’s “calmer” winds are hissing outside in the background! You can’t tell by watching this because I was trying my best not to drop my phone while recording but at one point, mom and I had our sweeping strokes perfectly synchronized. It was something like the one-two cadence of the hortator [timekeeper] on the galley ship in Ben-Hur. *Yes, I just referenced a movie from 1959 and no, I’m not ashamed to admit that it is one of my favorites of. all time.* We mustered up the strength to keep at it for a half-hour or so, stopping a few times to walk through the rooms coaxing the water towards the front door with the brooms.
It was close to 9pm when we finally settled in but, as I’ve heard Caribbean elder women say, we were too tired to sleep [exactly]. Eventually, we transitioned to snoring with the radio station WSTA 1340 AM tucking us in for the night. With no phone signal available, the only station in the Virgin Islands still transmitting after the hurricane was our only conduit to the outside world. Before my eyelids succumbed to gravity, I remember hearing a heart-wrenching plea: Lieutenant Governor Osbert Potter was out in the field, requesting assistance from the public. A housing community was demolished by the storm and some residents were literally homeless and stranded out in the elements. He was imploring homeowners in the area with intact dwellings to open their doors to these families so that they wouldn’t have to spend the night on the street. I prayed for them before descending into a deep sleep.