Experienced a recent bout of arrogance and want to feel small? Then, come on down to Florida and immerse yourself in Hurricane Wilma.
Having flown down with my wife and children to Miami Beach to spend the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, which mandates sitting outside in makeshift huts for a 7-day duration, with my mother and siblings, the most severe damage we thought we’d experience is cooking out in the Florida heat. Little did I expect that a most unlady-like Wilma would huff and puff, and blow all the Sukkos down.
I am writing these lines in my brother’s dining room, the noise of gusts of wind howling all around me as the eye of the storm makes its way across South Florida. The hurricane woke me and my wife up at 6 a.m., not because of its wind, but its heat. The electricity had gone out in middle of the night, and I opened the windows early in the morning to get a breeze. That, of course, was an understatement. What hit me upon opening the windows was a sight of power and awe that shall forever remain etched in my memory.
Immense gusts of wind shaking everything outside to their very foundations, accompanied by the ear-piercing sound of a powerful cyclone, was all around us. The wind came in immense gusts followed by momentary calm. One moment palm trees would be standing upright, the very next moment they were bending at almost 90 degrees. My wife quickly made me close the windows.
Just the night before, we were celebrating my mother’s birthday over a kosher dinner at an Israeli restaurant. My Florida family, hardened hurricane veterans all, took the city’s storm preparations in stride. It was going to be nothing more than strong winds and would be over before you knew it, they told me. But my brother’s reaction upon awaking this morning to see the surrounding tempest was sobering, and he quickly declared that he had never been through such a ferocious hurricane.
This meant that he and I had to go out into the storm and remove some garden furniture that, due to their weight, had easily survived previous hurricanes. My wife made me put on rubber shoes, lest some downed power line bring her to collect on her husband’s life insurance prematurely. A few moments later, my brother and I were in the belly of the beast.
To say that walking out into a hurricane with greater than 100 mile-an-hour winds is humbling, is an understatement. That I did so on one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, Hoshana Rabba, the sixth day of Sukkoth, made the experience all the more awe-inspiring.
Few experiences in my life have made me feel smaller. Being blown about like a fragile leaf made me confront the immense fragility of human life, the ferocious power of inescapable nature, and the incomprehensible might of the Creator who lay behind it all. I felt at once exhilarated, uplifted, dread-filled, terrified and, most of all, humbled.
When we came around the front of the house to close a storm shutter that had opened, we saw that my brother’s large mango tree had fallen squarely atop the rental car I had taken out a few nights earlier, crushing its top completely. It could, of course, have easily been us, and we quickly went back into the house, feeling only marginally more secure.
On the inside we could escape the actual winds, but there was no escaping its spine-chilling sound. We watched the electrical pole in the backyard slowly bend under the wind’s assault, wondering all the time if it was going to fall on our roof. Having decided that I had seen enough, I went to say my morning prayers and the special penitential prayer associated with Hoshana Rabba. Prayers that highlighted the glory of God and the insignificance of man never seemed more appropriate or real.
There is no end to this story yet, because I pen these lines in the eye of the storm, literally, the center of Wilma having given us a momentary respite from the horror. But having gone through such an awe-inspiring experience, perhaps there will be, if not a lasting end, then a considerable diminishment of whatever arrogance lurks within me.