In This Fateful Hour

In This Fateful Hour March 2, 2022


It’s supposed to be Fat Tuesday, a day to have a little fun.

There’s never a Mardi Gras in Steubenville, of course. You can buy Mardi Gras beads at the Dollar Tree but that’s about it. Rosie and I bought cake mix and icing yesterday on our weekly shopping expedition. I said it would be good to have a little party before Lent. I told her since she doesn’t like meat anyway, she has to be good about giving up sweets on Fridays and fast days, and we’ll pray night prayer together every night. That will be a good Lenten penance. For tonight we can have a treat.

It was overcast but warmer today. I took Rose to the park. She climbed and played and exalted in that first breath of warmth of an early Spring, while I paced up and down, trying not to look at my phone, trying not to think about the terrible suffering in Ukraine, which was impossible. My head was full pictures: cluster munitions popping the walls of apartment blocks, columns of burning smoke rising to the sky, the fiery mushroom cloud of a thermobaric bomb. Children like my Rose crying in bunkers, or dead. Behind them all, the specter of all-out nuclear war.

And then I was thinking of the Three Days of Darkness again, because I always am. I remembered my mother speculating that the Three Days of Darkness might be “a nuclear event.” The third Fatima prophecy, when it was released, also pointed to “a nuclear event.” Everything pointed to a nuclear event. Some of the Charismatics sounded downright excited for the nuclear event. I was terrified of a nuclear event. Now, for the first time since the USSR fell when I was six years old, I’m living in a world where everyone, not just Charismatics obsessed with decades-old prophecies, is thinking about a nuclear event. I am flashing back to growing up, believing in a god who was pleased to send a nuclear event to chastise the earth in preparation for an “era of peace.”

I paced up and down the walking path that surrounds the playground, until Rosie asked for some lunch.

I took her to the tiny store front Chinese restaurant downtown, the one with no place to sit and boxes of soft drink cans piled in one corner. She likes to get the fried rice there because it’s one of the only fast foods that’s gluten free and doesn’t make her stomach ache.  There is a giant photo of the pre-9/11 New York skyline on the wall of that Chinese restaurant for some reason. Rosie has asked me about it before; more than once, we’ve sat waiting for fried rice, staring at that photo and talking about the day I watched five thousand people die on live television. The pleasant older woman who speaks English and takes the orders was there, as she has been every time I’ve gone there for the nearly sixteen years I’ve been in Steubenville. Her son used to play on the floor of the restaurant while I waited, and now her grandson does; he was  amusing himself with noisy videos on his tablet in the corner. I think he was watching Tiktoks, based on the length of the videos and how they repeated.

There was a long time to wait for our order, and Rosie was in the car, so I didn’t have to answer questions about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I just listened to the Tiktoks.

At first it was just pop music and irritating sound effects. And then he started a new video.

A woman with a cheerful, almost singsong voice declared words to the effect of, “In the event that World War Three breaks out, these are the sounds you’ll hear! First there will be a land invasion with tanks, which sound like this.” There was the rumbling grumbling sound of tanks on the move, and the boom-boom-boom of them being fired from a long way away.

The cheerful woman in the tablet next informed us that next there would be air raids that would sound like this. And then there was the sound effect of a tornado siren wailing.

The cheerful woman said that finally, in the event of a nuclear war, we would hear this. And there was another sound effect, but I can’t tell you what it was, because I was trying as hard as I could to forget where I was so I wouldn’t go into hysterics in front of the child and his grandmother.

I barely remember getting the bag and getting into my car, where Rosie was waiting for me.

I remember dropping her off with Michael at home, telling her I’d be back after a short drive.

And then I was sitting in my car in the Kroger parking lot, unleashing the panic attack I’d stifled in the Chinese restaurant, sobbing, tears rolling down my face.

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness:
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

I have wished more times than I could ever count, that I had a braver Mary Pezzulo to show you. But there is only me. There is only this Mary Pezzulo, having a panic attack and trying to remember a rhyme from a middle grade fiction novel, in a very messy dented car in a parking lot in a bad part of Eastern Ohio. Lent starts in the morning, and there’s a war, and the bad guy has nukes.

Today I cried, and panicked, and I mourned for people thousands of miles away who I’ve never met, and I wished I’d never heard of the cruel and terrible god of my childhood, and I wished it wasn’t going to be Lent, and then I went home to bake a cake.

Tomorrow I’ll fast and pray.

And I don’t know what happens next.



Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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