For every memorable year of my adult lifetime, I have had just one recurring and terrifying nightmare. In that dream, I am running for my life from a rapidly approaching, formidable wall of water that I cannot outrun. I am absolutely certain that it will overtake me. Ironically, for every memorable year of my adult lifetime, in all of my many domestic and foreign homes, I have never lived anywhere near that possibility. I never once lived on the edge of an ocean – until I met ‘Iokepa, and moved my life to these Hawaiian Islands.
I’ve never had that nightmare since.
This Saturday past, I was awakened at 6:00 a.m. – not by the usual annoying and pervasive wild roosters, but by an air raid siren. (I was dreaming, as it happens, of Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, chosen in 1945 at a time when her religion was a significant factor working against her selection.)
‘Iokepa also awakened to the sound of the sirens and said immediately, “Kai e’e!” It means, in Hawaiian, “tidal wave.” When you live on a speck of rock in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, hurricanes and tidal waves are part of your consciousness. They are not nightmares; they are facts of life.
We turned on our cell phone; we turned on our computer. Since three in the morning, our silenced phone messages had been screaming warnings from family on other Islands – various versions of “Get to high ground!” The rebooted computer shouted email alerts from friends across other time zones. We have spent much of our lives here living in tents on Kaua’i beaches. Friends and family feared for us.
But this time we were blessedly high and dry. It was our turn to offer help to our friends whose homes were coastal and in danger – people with farm animals in need of rescue, people in need of a place to escape.
Every hour from 6:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m., with a final blast at 11:15, the sirens screeched their message of doom. Roads were closed. Helicopters circled remote areas looking for folks without phones or computers or radios; there were plenty. We gathered with our neighbors on the highest ocean promontory near our home. It was hot and sunny. The distant ocean below our lookout seemed particularly flat and still. People brought food and picnicked. Hours passed, and the threat passed as well. The kai e’e missed the Island.
So for the first time in my life, I live in a place where tidal waves pose real and absolute disaster – and I no longer have that nightmare. Clearly, the terrifying wall of water that threatened me, that I could never hope to outrun, was something symbolic – a metaphoric fear that no longer needs to awaken me.
I suppose that once I’d given up my comfortable home in Portland to live in a windblown tent on tropical beaches… That once I’d agreed to enter the aboriginal nether-land between the solidity of my five resolute senses and the fuzzier world of ancestral spirits… That once I’d risked life, limb, and sanity to leap full-steam ahead into this improbable life with ‘Iokepa… Once I’d agreed to all of that, I suppose, I’d already lived through the tidal wave.