Like many people in the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I were hit pretty hard by the recent ice storm. We live on a patch of woodland just outside of Newport. We lost power and cable early and (since we are on a well) that meant no water. We were offline for almost six days. Our driveway was blocked for 2 days. Fortunately, we had a wood stove and barrels of rainwater so we could stay warm, heat food, boil water, and manually flush the toilet. Thankfully, we also have great neighbors, who pitched in with firewood, a generator to keep our freezer going, helped clear the road, etc. An event like this makes one truly value good neighbors. It also tends to make one think of all the other people going through the same thing as neighbors also. It can create an expanding set of circles of inclusion: the local town, the county, the state, the nation, and so on. It is this ability to include others in our ring of compassion that (I believe) could be salvation of humanity.

At times during the storm, I stood out on my deck just watching and listening. It came to me that I was basically living in a war zone. I winced as my family’s trees took a beating. Breaking twigs were like the crackle of small arms fire; larger branches broke with a sound like rifle or small cannon shots; the really big branches and were as loud as artillery rounds, and from time to time, a tree top or a whole tree would snap like a bomb blast and there were horrific crashing sounds as they slithered to the ground in piles of rubble. Meanwhile, the sky was occasionally illuminated as transformers blew—these were like airstrikes. All the time, we never knew where the next blow would fall—would it hit the house, the garage, the studio, the well, the road…? Do the crashes one hears mean the neighbors nearby or down the road have been hit? Should we rush out in the storm with branches raining down to check on them…? 

As I stand thinking about this, it occurs to me that we should consider the other storm that rages in Gaza today. We should include them in our circle of compassion and think of them as neighbors too. In an ever shrinking and connected world, they really are. Their suffering has not ended—there is no relief in sight. The suffering there has been going on for years. It started long before the October 7 attack by Hamas. People in Gaza have lived for years with severely limited light, heat, power, internet, and phone. The water from my rain barrels is probably much cleaner than any water they have had for years. 

Every twig that broke as I watched during our local storm was a person wounded in Gaza. Every branch that broke on my family’s trees was a son or daughter dying. Every treetop that came down was the death of a parent or two. Whole trees were families wiped out in a single airstrike. Can we really keep believing this is necessary or useful? 

The existential question facing people in Gaza is “where to go.” Israel told the civilians to move south. Now they have mercilessly bombarded the south. Meanwhile, the other pressing question is a simpler where to “go”? With disease spreading and badly contaminated water, people must still “go.” There are no functioning toilets and no water to flush. The stench must be horrible. We might hope it will rain, but that will rinse the raw sewage into already undrinkable water. Now Israel is pumping saltwater into the already badly compromised water table.

An ice storm is an odd thing. It wasn’t blowing or raining hard, there was just a constant transparent, misty drizzle. It strikes me that this is much like hatred—it just congeals on everything until it becomes brittle, the weight becomes intolerable, and something finally snaps.

Experiences like this are deeply traumatizing, especially to children. One of my earliest, most vivid memories is of the October 12, 1962 Columbus Day storm. I was only about 3 and half years old, but I still remember crouching under a heavy table in our basement while my father paced nervously as trees crashed down. One can only imagine what the survivors of Gaza will have to live with. It will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Forget all the nonsense you might have heard about the Palestinians “teaching hatred of Israel” in their classrooms. Gaza will teach them all they will ever want to know about the brutality of Israeli occupation.

Our recent storm gave us a very small taste of what people in Gaza endure. We were inconvenienced for a few days; they are now on day 117 of a major catastrophe (as of February 1). It is not over yet. Our ice storm was a natural disaster. Gaza is manmade. It could be stopped any day. Maybe our experience can help us imagine how much worse it could be and try to speak out for an end to this disaster. 

February 1, 2024

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