Island escape

Flooding at Rodanthe Pier on North Carolina’s Hatteras Island following the passage of Hurricane Arthur on July 4. Photo:  U.S. Coast Guard Mid-Atlantic 

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Being forced to abruptly end your vacation due to a mandatory evacuation order gets you thinking about a lot of things.

One thing it got me thinking about was a recent conversation with an Orthodox scholar, who asked if I believed in God. I said yes. He then followed with another question: Do I think God has a plan for me?

It was a fair follow-up question, but since I’m the one usually asking the questions, I was caught off guard. I contemplated for a minute or so; then said yes, I feel as if God, or some higher spiritual being, has a strong hand in guiding me. 

I’ll use my career as an example. After taking a buyout from the Post-Dispatch after 25 years, I took a job at a local marketing firm. I didn’t want to abandon journalism, but I knew the options in St. Louis were heavily limited, and leaving St. Louis wasn’t a choice. After a year though, I heard that the Jewish Light was looking for an editor. What were the odds? Almost six years later, I still feel blessed to have landed this job. 

Fortuitous? Probably. Good timing? Sure. Still, I’ve felt God had a hand in this strange turn of events, and it’s not the first time I’ve had this feeling as my life path has veered one way or another. 

But then I wonder: Is this giving God too much credit for what others would argue are twists of fate? Is it crazy to think that with all the tsuris going on in the world, God would be concerned with our careers, our romances, our children?

I’m not really sure; after all, who is? But God and fate and timing were on my mind a lot last week while on vacation with extended family. 

I married into one of the all-time great families. Both of my husband’s parents are deceased, but he has a terrific brother and sister, each of whom has a terrific spouse. Add to this some terrific kids and in the case of my husband’s brother, some terrific grandkids, and you have 20 family members, ranging in age from 3 to 60, spending the Fourth of July week together at North Carolina’s Hatteras Island.

For three days we rode waves on boogie boards, played games on the beach, dug in the sand, ate gourmet meals that we had prepared and laughed until our sides hurt. Jocularity is the modus operandi of this family.

Until a hurricane named Arthur messed everything up.

Around 7 p.m. last Wednesday, July 2, we got word we would have to be off the island by 8 a.m. the next day. There was no voting about it — evacuation was mandatory.

We went from smiling to shell-shocked. News reports had Category 2 Hurricane Arthur hitting Hatteras Island Thursday night, with predictions of 100 mile-per-hour winds and serious flooding likely from major storm surges on both the sound and ocean sides. It was quite possible the only artery in and out of the island, narrow Highway 12, would be washed out and inaccessible for days or more.

Arthur was the first hurricane on record to make landfall in North Carolina this early in the season, dating back to 1851. The previous record in the last century and a half was July 11, 1901.

Leaving meant forfeiting our vacation home rental, but far more importantly, our family time together. We still had group pictures to take, karaoke to sing, go-karts to ride. Worst of all, we wouldn’t be able to see my nephew, who is a sergeant in the U.S. Army. After a tour in Afghanistan and being stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, he and his family are now in Virginia for scant months before he likely will be deployed overseas. While his wife and young daughter were able to join us at the beginning of the vacation, my nephew planned to drive down Thursday night for the holiday weekend. Now, Hurricane Arthur was driving us away.

As we packed our belongings through the night, still in disbelief, I got to thinking about God’s plan. I couldn’t fathom why God, or His/Her minion Mother Nature, would want to ruin my family’s precious time together or cause close to $2 million in damage (as was later realized) to a place as pristine and special as Hatteras Island. Truth is, I think about that when I hear of any natural disaster, especially ones where so many lives are lost. Really? What’s the point?

But then sometimes the practical and skeptical side of me takes over. I think about the impact of climate change. I think about guns and the misery they can cause. I think about my nephew and his brethren whose lives are threatened fighting in wars. I think about terrorism and how people hate based on religious and political beliefs. I think about all the bad stuff that goes on everyday in this world, from innocents being kidnapped to toddlers suffocating in hot cars. How could this possibly be God’s plan?

But it’s not, really. At least, it’s not for me. Perhaps God’s plan is to give us the means and the spirit to cope with the many occurrences that compromise our lives. The hope, the resilience, the willingness to move on to the next thing.

Despite the major sadness that befalls the world, we have God to remind us that better things can come, if only we persevere and live our lives in positive and meaningful ways. For the many I’ve encountered during my professional and private life who have dealt with personal tragedies, I believe this faith that something better can come out of something worse may be the most significant thing that gets them through.

There are no easy answers. For me, and the relatively small challenges I’ve had to face in my life, God has helped me find a pathway through.

And while I still feel ripped off of a vacation, I thank God for the terrific family who caused me to want to be with them in the first place.