Timing is everything, and luck is relative. We left Washington in a swirl of the first flakes of what would become the Blizzard of '03, embarking on a winter holiday with our extended family of 10. A rented ocean-front house waited for us on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, ours for a week. Virgins or not, it turned out to be heaven.
Aqua waves splashed against the boulders beneath our bedroom, illuminated by a hot yellow sun by day and a cool orange moon by night. (No orange alert here.) Another hour getting out of Washington and we would have been wading through dirty slush with frozen feet instead of snorkeling through corral reefs, watching angel fish and purple triggerfish play.
What perfect joy to watch the 4-year-old grandson run on the deserted white-sand beach unencumbered by clothes, with his 7-year-old brother, riding high on the shoulders of an uncle, shouting his laughter to the sky.
Our paths were decorated with tropical orchids of lavender reaching up to the sky between thick green leaves of exotic foliage. We watched iguanas playing piggy back with each other while we nibbled fried yucca dipped in hot sauce and sipped fresh orange juice and rum daiquiris, taking the feast of sensual pleasures as they came. We took delight in the freedom of a holiday, exploiting the innocent pleasures of relaxed family life with only a twinge of guilt, remembering our friends back home. (But isn't the point of a holiday to escape from reality?)
But far away, beyond the sun and the sand on the other side of the Atlantic, we could hear the distant rumble of the drums of war, not quite drowned by the cry of our birds and the roar of the sea. Fear and loathing as old as history, terror of a dictator who revels in the destruction of the tranquility the rest of us crave, intruded on consciousness like the dread of a shark hiding in the shallows.
There were no daily newspapers, not even CNN or Fox News, but we knew friends back home were shopping for bottled water, plastic sheeting and duct tape. Somewhere beyond the sun and sand, and under the same blue sky, frustrated inspectors were looking for gruesome weapons of mass destruction buried somewhere inside the earth. Young men and women, who not so long ago were tykes like these running on the beach before us, were digging for shelter in sand not unlike the sand where we spread a blanket every morning.
Even in this idyllic place, tempers occasionally flared over the breakfast table. Adult children who live in Berlin, having absorbed the German zeitgeist, argued that George W. is too quick on the draw, too much in a hurry to get to war. Those of us from Washington held our tongues in the interests of family peace, impatient with their naïve green sentiments.
We finally declared a moratorium on discussions of war to prevent every gathering around the table from becoming a skirmish in an uncivil war. We busied our attention with local problems: traffic jams at the Red Hook harbor, overpriced food, the lack of fresh fish in the markets. We absorbed some local history, learning that our idyllic island was not immune to evil. The Danes who ruled St. Thomas for more than two centuries grew rich with regular shipments of slaves. Today the harbors are drop-offs for trade in illegal immigrants and drugs.
Time, of course, decorates history with nostalgia and romance. Where Sir Francis Drake looked out for enemy ships approaching his fleet, we enjoyed a breathtaking panorama at dusk. A medieval-like castle named for Blackbeard is said to have been the home of pirates who lived by plundering ships of silver and gold on their way to Spain. True or not, we believed it. (We were paying for it.)
But at last it was time to return to the world. The airport reminded us once more of the grim new era we live in, that our entire clan of 10 could be obliterated in an instant. We were especially understanding when a security agent asked us to take off our shoes.
The trip home was wretched. We left late and arrived late, circling Reagan National Airport for an hour while the pilot searched for a hole in the clouds and the fog. A suitcase was lost. The taxis had all gone home. We dragged bags upon bags to the Metro station and when we got to our station the escalator was out of order. When we made it to the street level there was all the ice and snow and slush we had spent the week being smugly oblivious of. We slipped and sloshed several blocks through the remnants of the storm.
But did we complain? Not a peep. Timing is everything, and luck is relative.