I hate how people invoke God during disasters. “God sent the storm to teach us to work together” isn’t nearly as offensive as “God sent the storm to smite the Sodomites.” But it’s really just a matter of degree. “God will get us through this” only works if you believe in a God who’s strong enough to pull you from the water, but either too weak or to mean to keep the flood from happening to begin with. “God set the laws of nature in place and then stepped aside” is an okay out. But why would you believe a God like that would care about whether the quarter cow in your deep freeze defrosts?
As it happened, God did care about the quarter cow in our deep freeze. The Almighty cared enough to give us advance warning, courtesy of those snazzy NOAA satellites, of when God was sending the big storm, how big it would be, and where it would hit. The Lord cared enough to plant within my atheist husband’s brain the forethought to bring a pile of quilts and blankets down from the attic so we could insulate the freezer if the lights went out. When the lights did go out, and then stayed out, God gave my non-believing life partner the idea of buying dry ice. That would have been enough. But then God went above and beyond by directing us to the welding supply house that was selling dry ice on a first-come-first served basis. We popped that cube of super-cold into our freezer, and the meat was saved. Go, God!
God sent the gust of wind that ripped the huge limb off our silver maple. But The Source of All Being cared enough about us, our house, our garage, our car, our neighbors’ cars, our neighbors’ house and our neighbors to make sure that limb landed safely on the lawn.
That same gust, by the way, or maybe one like it, pushed our tomato plants sideways. But The Ruler of the Universe cared enough about my Brandywines and Supersweets to spare all but a few of the fruits. (And later, when it was all over, God showed God’s good, salt-of-the-earth taste by giving us the idea of turning the tomatoes we doubted would ever ripen into super-delicious fried green tomatoes. Nice one, God!)
After the storm blew over, God wanted to make sure we knew what a bad ass The Big Bopper could be. So The Holy One sent us and about half our neighborhood out to admire the fruit of God’s wrath. We oohed and aahed over trees cracked in two, trees toppled from their roots, utility poles askew, electric lines dangerously sagging, boats wrenched from their moorings and blown ashore. Awesome, God! We’re seriously impressed!
Monday morning God got in touch with God’s gentle side. It might have been the most perfect day ever, weather-wise. And with the electricity still out and lots of cleaning up to do, there were all sorts of reasons to be outside. The Creator wanted us to love our neighbor, so God got us working together. The head builder on the ballroom project across the street brought his chain saw over. The neighbor whose house and cars God hadn’t crushed with that limb chipped in. By lunch time, the mess was cleaned up.
It’s really important to God that we celebrate the Sabbath by turning off the internet and interacting with friends and family without the mediation of a screen. It’s an appealing idea, but it’s been a hard sell. So HaShem decided to get us used to the idea by keeping our electricity turned off for an extra day.
We played Scrabble by candle light, with a physical board and wooden tiles. We admired how many stars were visible without all that light pollution. We liked the quiet. We worked our way through the fresh mozzarella, the halal goat and the shrimp, thanking God for our gas stove. We had filled our bathtub and an enormous pot with water, but didn’t need either. We thanked The Big One that we don’t depend on an electric pump, and when we replaced our water heater we didn’t opt for the on-demand system. As darkness fell each night, we thanked The Lord for the gift of Shabbat and the big box of sturdy, scentless, long-burning Shabbat candles we keep for Friday nights.
It was all very romantic. It made us feel ever so strong and resourceful. But when the lights came back on, at around 2:30 Wednesday morning, my first thought was, “Thank God.”
Then I heard what had happened in Upstate New York, and I started seeing the pictures out of New Jersey, and the even more heart-wrenching images from Vermont, and I thought, “Yo, God. WTF?”