Refuge by Randi Stein

Randi Stein: I am a Straw Dog member and live in Amherst, MA (Hampshire County). I am a visual artist and writer, and often combine the two in mixed-media collages. 

Refuge

In 1978, I spent three weeks underground, in a bomb shelter in northern Israel.  The kibbutz where I lived, high in the mountains of the Galilee, had been bombed in an airstrike from Lebanon, and two members of the village were killed. I still remember the day, and the sound of that bomb. I had never heard anything like it. 

I was walking up the hill to the school, where I was to teach a fourth grade English class, and three things happened simultaneously: the sound of an explosion, the flapping of the schoolroom screen door, and a stream of children running out of the building. I stood, paralyzed. Until one of the children, ten-year-old Danit, grabbed my hand and pulled me into the stream of children running. And then down, down, down the concrete steps... until we reached the quiet. 

For three weeks we lived below ground. It was surprisingly peaceful. Food was brought from the central kitchen. We read, talked, played games. Everyone had a bed. Did we bathe? I don’t remember. What I remember is how kind everyone was. And how life resumed, when the all clear was given. 

In 1978, in that little village on the northern border, the danger came from the sky, and it could be intercepted. There would be a battle, but then— at least for a time— there would be peace. 

Now, here, in my small town, and in every town and city in most of the world, the danger is invisible, and lurks everywhere. We are told that our homes will shelter us, and to remain there, until the danger passes. 

There is no battle this time. Only a pretense at protection— clean hands, a face mask, distance—which inexplicably, is named “social."

There are moments when I forget all of it. I look out my kitchen window and see the red cardinal, alert at the bird feeder. I walk in the garden, and the hostas burst upward, announcing the force of spring. 

I rest on the couch, weary of the invisible battle between life and death.