It can all change in a blink of an eye.
Or in the eye of a storm. A typhoon to be exact.
These pictures were taken a week ago, out on a little tiny island named Peleliu. You might know this name from the Battle of Peleliu (the bloodiest battle in the Pacific during WWII), but I know this name because my heart lives here.
See, this little island with its just-a-few-hundred inhabitants and I have a deep love history -- one that started ten years ago on a service trip and has developed over the years with me actually getting the chance to live and teach on a nearby island. Sure, I taught and lived and laughed and loved in Koror, but my heart lived in Peleliu. During that year I visited about every three weekends. And after I moved back home I have been blessed with the chance to return several times.
This island has seen Christmas presents exchanged, piggy backs given, me attempting to eat the head of a fish (and failing miserably)... I have shared "my" island with friends from here in the States by bringing them out with me on service trips, and most recently (last week), I shared this island with my husband.
Like I said, we have a deep love history.
And the people? They aren't just friends. They are family.
So imagine my terror upon hearing last night that a typhoon -- no, wait -- a SUPER typhoon was heading to Palau, aimed straight at Peleliu.
Quickly I googled, just to confirm that they had evacuated the island.
They had not.
In the past, typhoons have come close, but usually just went around the country of Palau, so really, why did they have any reason to believe this was going to be any different?
But when your houses are clapboard and tin, and your elevation is an average of 10, you have a serious reason to be concerned in the face of a hurricane.
So I waited for news. A Palauan friend added me to a group where updates were being shared on Facebook. Some good news came in: several of my friends had left the island. But not everybody. The rest were holed up in old WWII bunkers, left behind by the Japanese.
So I waited some more. And then I went to sleep. Because really, besides pray and worry, worry and pray, what more could I do?
I woke up early this morning to hear the next set of news: most of the houses had been damaged or destroyed.
But no word about the people yet.
Instantly the tears started coming. And then my body began to shake. Uncontrollably. The last time I had something like that happen was the day I found out my mother had passed away. "You don't know yet," I kept telling myself, "they are probably OK. No news is good news." The tears slowed, but I could not stop shaking.
How could I have just been there last week, and everything was fine? When my husband and I got in the boat to leave, my friend was crying. "Stop crying," I pleaded with her. "This isn't goodbye, promise!" But as the boat pulled away and our friends couldn't see us anymore, my tears started to come. We knew it would be years before seeing each other again, and so much can happen in years. We just didn't expect so much to happen in days.
News was slow to come, and so I waited. And I prayed. And I tried reaching out on Twitter, Facebook, anywhere...
The problem with having an island so tiny that it can be "your" island is that new sources don't seem to care/know what is going on there.
Finally, a friend that I had tasked with letting me know the moment any news came in sent me a message: tons of damage, no deaths.
Oh! The relief that washed over me. The tears came a little again, but this time with jumping -- and no shaking.
I still have not heard what all the damage is. I still don't know who was present on-island and who made it off before hand. I have no idea what they went through nor what they will go through to rebuild. But I do know this: as of right now, everything points to LIFE.
Houses can be rebuilt. Schools will be repaired. These are important things, YES, but they are not the MOST important thing. So although there is still a lot to be done, and a long road ahead for our family out there, they are alive to walk that road. Amen!
(A glimpse of the damage from Bopha, in Koror. Still no pictures/official word from Peleliu.)