Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, June 24, 2018

In the tense hours waiting for Hurricane Sandy to arrive, I sat in the living room, reading the Gospels, and occasionally I looked out the window to see the trees swaying ominously in the wind.

One story I read was Matthew 14:22-33, the account of Jesus’ walking on the water amid the fierce storm that made the apostles’ boat toss about on the lake far from shore.

They were terrified that a ghost was approaching them until Jesus said, "Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid." And at his direction, Peter ventured out onto the waves, walking toward Jesus. However, when Peter looked around, he became terrified of the strong winds, and as he started to sink into the black depths of the lake, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Jesus grabbed his arm and pulled him to safety and said, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

I’ve often thought that it would have been more sympathetic of Jesus to say something like, "Are you OK, Peter?" or "Did you get water in your nose?" or "Take off those wet clothes before you catch cold, and then we can talk about your weak faith." But Jesus got right to the point.

Those words, "You of little faith ... why did you doubt?" could be my epitaph, especially during Hurricane Sandy, while the wind was whipping through the trees and heavy rain pelted the windows.

Like millions of others, we were expecting the worst – a flooded basement, a week-long power outage, downed limbs and a repeat of the scenario we’ve endured for three straight years. But it was much worse.

After preparing the flashlights, the camp stove and the transistor radios, we followed an old Italian tradition and hung rosaries in the windows to protect us. I’ve known more than one bride who put rosaries out on her wedding day as an appeal to the Lord of the Universe for good weather.

In front of the double-window in our living room, we placed a 5-foot statue of the Virgin Mary and St. Anne, which our friend rescued from a Dumpster years ago after a church threw it out during renovations.

As a final precaution, we prayed the rosary, along with a number of other prayers for protection, and then we waited for the inevitable.

Throughout the afternoon, storm winds were tossing the trees, which was especially frightening because our home is surrounded by towering oaks more than a century old.

We never realized how soon the horror would begin. At 5:35, we heard the sound of roots being ripped from the earth, and when I looked up, a 100-foot oak was falling toward me. Terrified, I dove for cover in the living room as the tree landed on the roof with a thunderous crash, right above the propane tank. Then, the real hysteria started.

The lights went out, and we heard that threatening sound again, and an even bigger oak slammed into the first one. A few minutes later, a third monstrous tree fell on top of the others. It seemed as if every tree in the yard was being uprooted and hurled at our home – and Hurricane Sandy hadn’t even made landfall yet.

What followed was a torturously long and fearful night, listening to the howling wind in anticipation of another tree falling or the roof collapsing.

Scared and helpless, we sat on the floor of the living room, illuminated only by a single candle. At one point, someone broke the silence and grumbled, "Is this what prayer gets you? What’s the use of praying for protection? The atheists on the street got off better than we did."

I, too, had my doubts while I watched the trees swirling in the darkness and heard the roof creaking under the weight. The hours crept slowly by, and we got little sleep that night as we lay side by side on the floor with the tempest raging outside.

Only in the morning, when I surveyed the damage, did I realize what had happened. The first oak slammed into the house a few feet from the propane tank. The other two trees, which were even larger, would surely have hit the tank and crashed through the living room windows if they hadn’t been blocked by the first tree, which shielded us.

As I looked at the house through the tangle of branches, I saw the statue of the Virgin Mary and St. Anne staring back at me from the double-window, right where the trees had stopped falling. And I realized our prayers for protection had been answered.

In that moment, I remembered Jesus’ words to a drenched Peter, as he pulled him from the raging waves: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.