The Word Among Us

July 2009 Issue

A Lifeline in the Night

What do you do when you're too worried to sleep?

By: Irene Uttendorfsky

A Lifeline in the Night: What do you do when you're too worried to sleep? by Irene Uttendorfsky

The radio on the counter crackled. “Storm warnings posted along the entire northeast coastline,” the announcer said, “with high seas and gale force winds.”

I smoothed another wrinkle with my fingers and pressed the steaming iron over the sleeve of my daughter’s blouse. I set the iron on its heel and glanced out the kitchen window. The wind was getting stronger, the branches of the lilac rising and falling with each gust. Another storm to face alone.

“Mom! Mary keeps changing the channel,” my ten-year-old son, John, whined from the next room. “Make her stop!”

“I had the TV first,” twelve-year-old Mary insisted. “I can watch what I want.”

It was only four steps from the ironing board to the family room, but by the time I reached the door, the argument had turned into a shoving match. I snapped the TV off.

“Time to get ready for bed. If the two of you can’t get along, I’ll have to make a sign-up sheet so you can learn to take turns.” They continued their squabble all the way up the stairs, each one blaming the other for losing their last half hour of TV.

Gathering Storm. I sighed. Moments like this had been a lot easier when I wasn’t the only parent in the house. That was before the Coast Guard had transferred my husband to a ship patrolling New York Harbor. With only two years left until his retirement, we had decided not to uproot the children from their school in rural Massachusetts. Better for them to stay here, we reasoned, and for us to weather the disruption.

We had worked hard to make our new life as normal as possible for them. My husband made the four-hour train ride home every weekend, and I held down the fort the rest of the week. Only one more year, I told myself. And then we would get back to normal.

Once Mary and John were settled in their beds, I went back downstairs and clicked on the television. The weather forecast didn’t help me unwind: “This is a major northeaster. The storm is expected to gain strength as it nears landfall, causing dangerously high seas and wind speeds up to sixty knots. Coastal areas can expect extremely high tides. Inland areas will experience heavy rains with the potential for flooding.”

Rain pattered on the roof as I climbed the stairs to bed. Just another storm, I told myself, mentally ticking off my list of worries. Would we lose our electricity? Probably. If so, the furnace would go out. Thank heavens it was November, too early to worry about pipes freezing and bursting. But if the rain kept up like this, the cellar was sure to flood. First thing in the morning, I would need to organize the family “sponge and pail brigade.”

Panic and Peace. By the time I crawled into bed, my anxiety level matched the storm’s intensity. Wind rattled the windows and shook the house. Rain pelted the windows, sheeting the panes and changing the streetlamp and house across the street into wavy shadows.

“Lord, keep us safe.” I thought of my husband. Was he safe in the harbor?

I turned off the light, but I couldn’t close my eyes. My mind kept conjuring up disturbing images—our roof ripped off by the raging wind, an uprooted tree falling on the house. I switched the light back on. If I can’t sleep I might as well read, I thought, picking a book from the shelf above the bed. But my mind refused to focus on the words.

An overwhelming sense of impending danger was building up inside me. I put the book down and took a deep breath, but I couldn’t shake the premonition: Something awful was about to happen to my husband!

I started to shake, and then to cry. The storm still battered the house, but I no longer cared. All I could think about were the huge waves crashing over the bridge of his ship. I reached for the rosary I kept by my bed. “Please, Mother Mary, ask Jesus to save my husband.”

With each decade I prayed, my fear lessened. By the time I finished, I knew my husband was safe. I praised God for his mercy and Mary for her intercession. Then, with the peace of blessed assurance, I slept.

Close Call. Early next morning, I was in the cellar with my grumbling brigade, helping them sop up the two inches of standing water. When I heard the phone ring, I raced up the stairs.

“Hi, Hon,” my husband said. I was so happy to hear his voice, my heart skipped a beat. “Any damage from the storm?”

“Just a little water in the cellar. How were things there?”

“We’re all fine,” he said.

I paused. “Did anything happen to you last night, about midnight?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” he said, with a slight how did you know? tone in his voice. “My ship had been called out on a rescue mission, and right about that time, I was on deck, helping to lash down some gear. The waves were washing up, and the ship was rolling with the heavy seas, when all of a sudden my feet went out from under me. Next thing I knew, I was sliding across the deck. I thought for sure I was going overboard.”

A chill ran down my spine. So my husband had been in mortal danger! “I had an awful feeling,” I told him. “I didn’t know how, but I knew you were about to die.”

“Just at the last minute, I managed to grab onto a stanchion.” He was silent for a second or two, and when he resumed, his voice was somber. “It was close. I wouldn’t have lasted long in those seas.”

Safe Harbor. I pictured my husband clinging to a post on a storm-tossed deck while I clung to my rosary in a storm-battered house. “I felt so powerless to help you,” I told him. “That’s when I picked up my beads. And even before I finished the rosary, I knew you were all right.”

Grateful wonder filled us both as we realized what God had done for us. “I didn’t think anything could keep me from falling overboard!” my husband exclaimed. “Thank you for praying for me.”

“And I didn’t think there was anything I could do to help you!” I laughed. “But thank God! And the Blessed Mother as well.”

In the darkest of night, with the storm at its worst, God had thrown us each a lifeline—connecting us with him and with one another. Now I know that he is always near, able to see us through life’s every storm and bring us safely to harbor in him.

Irene Uttendorfsky lives in Port Leyden, New York.