A House Called ‘Deliverance’

Our family traipse – not unlike Viking forbears who once sailed the Volga and traded wares on the Silk Road –  began long ago in a Minnesota winter, with ports of call like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Penang, Rangoon and Chittagong, mostly aboard plucky freighters.  In time, we came to live on the verge of the Subansiri (‘ladder of gold’) River that cascades off the slopes of the Himalayas through a cathedral-like gorge, and spills into the sacred Brahmaputra before losing itself in the Bay of Bengal.

In that exquisite valley, now the proposed scene of India’s largest hydro-electric project, there once stood midst the thatch and bamboo villages a rest house built of timbers from the surrounding forests.  On the evening of August 15, 1950 everything changed. A cataclysmic earthquake (8.6 on the Richter scale), still ranked among the strongest ever recorded, shattered the valley and the hills. It triggered soil liquefaction, the disappearance of river islands, and land slips in the mountains. Even rivers shifted course. Pilots overflying the scene later said the topography no longer corresponded to their air charts.

But what most puzzled the survivors in the aftermath was what had become of the Subansiri.  Its ample water dried up. Soon people were wading across what had once only been passable by boat.  Government helicopters dispatched into the upper reaches of the river found that half a mountain had slid into the river’s course creating a dam.  Behind that barrage the roiling water was piling up. An alarm was raised for downstream residents to flee. Columns of refugees soon abandoned the valley on foot, by ox cart, bicycle and the occasional lorry (truck).  And then people waited.

The days slipped by without event.  Rumors began to fly that the alarm was only a ruse and that mischievous neighbors were now looting abandoned homes.  People swarmed back into the valley to defend what was theirs. No sooner had the villages filled up with anxious returnees than the mountains groaned from the weight of the accumulated water, the landslide gave way, and a 20-foot wall of water rushed out of the mountains engulfing everything in its path, sweeping away nearly every recognizable landmark.  Except that small rest house – where a few lucky souls, clinging to its rafters, were spared.

The house called ‘deliverance’ pictured in the mid-’50s, about five years after a disastrous earthquake and following flood had left the Subansiri river valley a bare sand flat where once there had been villages, fields and mature trees.  Notice the house stands on stilts, a necessity required during the summer monsoon when homes are often left in standing water.  

The timbers of that house were later dismantled and re-erected on safer ground.  It was then our family came to live in that stout, but modest, dwelling whose rafters whispered of life snatched from nature’s wrath.  My only clue to its singular history came when older neighbors, survivors of that terrible day, came to sit in the shade of the house, head in hands, there to shed silent tears of remembrance.  Of survivor’s guilt. Of loss and deliverance. Of bitterness and gratitude.

And sometimes, when the summer monsoons had called forth the valley’s sea of tall grasses, the roof of our house, barely floating above their flowered plume, seemed like the  legendary vessel of old which became a means of deliverance from the waters.


20 thoughts on “A House Called ‘Deliverance’

    1. Hello, Mark! Your note comes to remind us that calamity comes in many forms- as in Christchurch! So many are left outside the ‘safe zone’. For certain, survivors will return to shed their own silent tears of remembrance. Kyrie eleison!

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    1. Hello, Shirley! A delight to know you’ve paused to read the blog and found it worth the while. If the sprig of a story finds harbor in the heart – yes, even for years – well, then, it has a chance to stir both writer and reader, can turn itself into something like poetry.

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  1. Hello Jonathan!
    This is lovely — and such an appealing little house in your picture! It seems hard to believe what it survived, and the people it saved on its roof!
    Warmest best from Princeton, New Jersey!
    Doug.

    PS I notice one of the others who responded is named Christina Dondero, who might be the same person who was our neighbor on Westchester Avenue in Decatur, along with Tim Dondero? If so, very best regards. ….

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    1. Jambo, Bwana Douglas! Great to hear from you! Yes, the force of the flood blew out all the walls and carried the contents away. But the superstructure stood firm, and was later slightly enlarged. From that house it was not unusual as children to hear the tigers roaring in the sea of grass. Let’s say it had ambience! Christina and Tim are good friends! We will remember you to them next!

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  2. Hi Jonathan! Your sister, Bette, here. Thanks for writing about our humble home for 11-12 years where we found such wonderful community and made incredible memories. It truly was a house of deliverance for many who came after the flood to hear the true Gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness as they sat under its rafters listening to the Gospel Recordings of scripture in their own language and stories of the amazing miracles and sacrifice of a man called Jesus. Within the walls of that flood-ravaged house of deliverance our parents served many cups of tea, swabbed many feet and hands of lepers, harbored many hurting souls, showed and taught God’s love tirelessly.
    You forgot to mention that most important epilogue – the part that should really be gilded.

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  3. Hey, Tim! Thanks for reading and responding! One thing I’ve found helpful – to travel those hours without the chatter of radio or other audio resulting in a chance to think long thoughts, a kind of meditative prayer – to allow the creative process to cast up images and phrases that might serve the telling. (The road – like a river – is strong stimulus to a half-dreaminess upon which great story and poetry depend.) When I finally sit down at the keyboard, I am following a path through country that is fairly buzzing with possibility, drawing in what seems fitting and faithful.

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  4. I can hear your voice as I read your words. What fun it would be to sit under your teaching once again! You made the book of Mark come alive the first Bible study we had.

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