The mood has passed and people are back to their lives now, but I still feel like I have something to say about this latest hurricane of ours. The hurricane named Irene.
By the time it reached Connecticut, I think it was downgraded to a tropical storm. We had some wind here…definitely more wind than usual, but not as much as the hype led us to believe we would endure. We luckily don’t have cable anymore, so we didn’t catch the majority of the hysteria, but from what I read online, we would be living in a deserted wasteland by the time the storm had passed.
We lost power on Sunday morning sometime. We didn’t get it back until the following Sunday at about 6:30PM. Strangely enough, this was the longest I had ever lived without electricity, besides the times I used to go camping as a kid. I know this feeling isn’t a very popular one, but I enjoyed the vacation.
There are a few stages one goes through when one lives through an extended power outage and a few choices one has to make. The early stages revolve around hope. You sit and wait and expect things to go back to normal. Any moment you know, you just know that you will unexpectedly hear the hum of the refrigerator and the rumble of the boiler downstairs. You’ll get up and turn the computer on to get back to work and check your email.
A few days later, you find yourself standing alone in the driveway looking at the motion detector lights that always go on automatically when the power comes back on. You start doing “the countdown.” “Okay, if I close my eyes and count from five down to one and really concentrate, those lights are going to turn back on.” Of course, that never works, but at least if offers some sense of control of the situation.
Later on, you basically get used to the idea of having no electricity and resign yourself to your new life. Your skin isn’t quite as clean as it was at the beginning of the week, but that’s okay. You came into this knowing that a washcloth couldn’t clean your body as effectively as a hot shower could. Things will get back to normal soon, but there’s no rush. Sure, you would like to check your email while not sitting in your car in the library parking lot, but really, there’s no rush. Resigning oneself to a seemingly uncontrollable situation is a tactic that has worked for so many for eons, right? The only problem with resignation is that pressure builds. A person generally isn’t aware that it’s building, but an unknown pressure is surely building.
The final stage is blame. That stupid electric company. “How many times do I have to drive past that downed wire and witness absolutely nothing being done about it? Perhaps I should go out there with a chainsaw and a ladder to do it myself. I am sure I could gather enough of the neighbors who are at wits end to help out. Heck, we’ll even do the electrical work. We’ll figure it out.”
That stage lasts for only a short time before you do, in fact, hear the refrigerator and boiler kick back on. That’s where the trouble starts.
I knew I would feel this way. I expected it and was ready for it. All week long, I didn’t sit in my office chair to use the computer. I sat in the chair alright, but that was just to enjoy the dark silence. It was an odd feeling, because for almost four years I had never occupied this room for anything other than to use the computer. So there I sat, staring at my huge, dark monitor. It was a forced alteration of my dull and daily routine. It was many things and enjoyable at the same time.
We had no running water, but were smart enough to fill a big 30 gallon plastic tote beforehand and keep it on the back patio. I purchased two five gallon buckets with lids from Home Depot and was lucky enough to have friends offer me their sparkling clear city water for drinking. I used two old plastic laundry detergent containers to hold water from the brook out back to use for anything we weren’t drinking or eating. It was purifying.
We read by candlelight and flashlight while relaxing on the couches in the living room, a room we haven’t used yet since moving into this house. We drank red wine and talked about life. We talked. We talked more than we have talked since she set up shop in the basement and I moved upstairs. We talked and we talked and we talked. I got used to not having electricity.
My sister ran the business from Georgia. I checked in every so often to make sure things were still up and running, but I felt good giving her more resposibility than she usually had. I didn’t think about it. I pretended that I was away somewhere and that things were out of my hands. It’s strange because once I accepted the fact that I had nothing to do, I did nothing.
Early on in the week, I saw myself faced with two choices. The first choice was to challenge reality and to fight to keep the house alive. The refrigerator and freezers were getting warmer by the minute and I could surely do everything in my power to keep those two things humming along like they usually do. The second choice was to accept what was happening and to move and shuffle things about to accommodate what was going on around us. We chose the accommodation route and are better people for it.
I am probably the only person in the state who felt a tad of disappointment the minute the house came back alive. All week long, I had read, drank, talked and was offered help by friends. There were people waving others through intersections, approaching each other in parking lots to chat…even store owners getting to know their customers on levels that I had never seen. It was a throwback to a more innocent time. Then, the power was restored.
We since haven’t spoken like we did that week. I have been working and she has been working. We cross paths, but nothing like it was that week in the living room. When I drive and approach a red light. I look ahead and wait for it to turn green. I have no idea who is on either side of me. When I go to the grocery store, I get out of the car and walk straight in. I don’t introduce myself to the guy next to me who is loading ice into a big cooler in his trunk. Cashiers now just take my money.
I think a lot about who we should be. I ask myself why we aren’t that way. I think this experience was a reminder that we’re like a river…we flow along the easiest path. We only do what’s necessary and when times arise that force us to change or to get to know one another, we do. That’s just the way it is. As much as people tell themselves that we should be this way or we should be that way, they eventually succumb to the reality of who they are. As a people, we aren’t that way until we have to be, no matter how much inspiration finds us.