Every so often things happen in our lives that are profound enough to alter our thinking or “wake us up.” In a world where the collective conscious has ADD, it takes some effort to make that happen. Unless it involves us personally, what happens on TV, no matter how catastrophic, seems to fly away as soon as the latest episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” comes onto the screen. But things do ultimately happen to us.
Though a few unfortunate souls lost their lives by coming into contact with downed power lines, in comparison to other events that happened around the globe, Hurricane Irene was more of a nuisance than a danger. However, in the end, six days without power taught me something.
From the time I was old enough to understand my parents’ stories of their childhoods in Europe, they have tried to impress upon me what it was like growing up “without.” Most of those stories begin with the words “we didn’t have….” And usually ended with “kids today….” I always listened to those stories with sincere interest, but even though I have a pretty good ability to put myself into someone’s shoes, my empathy would only allow me to feel for my parents. How could a kid growing up with multiple presents under a Christmas tree relate to one lone gift of a pair of socks knitted by his Grandmother? It’s the old “walked five miles to school — with only one shoe — in a blizzard” syndrome. You had to be there.
Well, I was there for lovely Irene, and for six days she force-fed me the moral of my parents’ childhood stories. In a nutshell, we are for the most part spoiled rotten!
I realize now that without a source of power and fresh water mankind would be nowhere near the 6 billion plus number. Maybe you have played the game with your friends trying to decide what man’s greatest contribution to society is? Electricity! Electricity, that from which every trivial, comfy, soft, fluffy modern comfort is derived! Can you live without it? Absolutely. Could mankind have covered the globe like a fungus without it? No way. That we are so utterly and absolutely dependent on electricity is… frightening.
In the 14 years that I have lived in my current home, I have been without power many times. It’s not surprising considering the fact that I live in a New England town with masses of massive trees through which power lines are suspended. The outages never lasted over 24 hours and usually much less, but Irene was clever and greedy. She wanted those power lines and she wanted a lot of them. However, Linda had been clever and she had prepared for the worst. It’s hard not to prepare when your father calls and gives you a “to do” list. (For a boy who grew up hauling water from a river to water the vegetable garden, somewhere in the back of his loving heart he probably enjoyed the fact that I was beginning to “get it”) Prepared I was… for about three days of it. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would take that long for the juice to come back on.
In the beginning it was fun. It felt like playing house, and every successful feeding of my guys using the barbecue grill and a camp stove made me feel like the good little prairie wife. Heating hot water and rigging up a system to have hot and cold water dispensers over my kitchen sink was a personal triumph. Sitting by candle light and playing old fashioned games and listening to the news on a battery operated transistor radio was charming. By day three, it just got old… and dirty. Our ancestors had to be incredibly stained and smelly. Thank God the weather cooperated and it never got too hot or my charming little Amish house would have become unbearable. Still, by day three, I got desperate and took a complete bath in my swimming pool. It felt like heaven and convinced me that the only thing elevating us from animals is bathing. My three dogs thought I was nuts…
My parents’ stories hit full force one day when my 12-year-old son, used to three electronic media toys running simultaneously, said to me - in complete seriousness, “ I can’t live like this!” I was beginning to feel that way myself. Our electronic world is noisy. Buzzing, humming, chiming, machines create our modern day version of silence. We are so used to it that real silence is “loud” and can make you feel like Joe Pesce in MY COUSIN VINNY. And then there is TV. TV is for the most part an escape from reality unless you watch Fox News 24 hours a day like my father. I wanted to escape from reality, but my reality was that there was no TV. I’m not an excessive TV watcher because I am busy with things I enjoy more or responsibilities most of the day. Now I felt like I was a TV addict. TV withdrawal. Thank the Lord; my favorite shows all start up in the fall!
I made jokes on stage about becoming an “Instant Amish,” but it wasn’t that far off. Those Amish are hard workers. Water is the source of life and three horses drink a lot of it. When my stored up water ran out, I had to drive to the volunteer fire department and fill up five gallon buckets from a big water tank they had brought in. I should have hitched up the horses and made them pull it home! Trying to keep food stored is another challenge. Ice becomes more precious than gold when you’re trying to keep hamburger from spoiling. I had to leave for a show in the middle of the outage and my “boys” had forgotten to keep the cooler stocked with ice, so I had to throw out some carefully prepared food. I wasn’t real happy about that. I could just hear what my Dad would have had to say about that.
Just at the point when we were all starting to hear voices in our heads… the power came back on. Halleluiah!! I have never been so happy to do housework in my life! I smiled as I did laundry. I laughed as I vacuumed; I stared in horror at the dirt I couldn’t see by candlelight. My son charged every power hungry toy he has. We sat glued to even the most boring programs on TV simply because the TV was on. We listened to the humming, buzzing, clanking, knocking sounds of the house like it was music. I stocked the refrigerator with bright, shiny, new perishable food. The dogs looked at us like we were nuts…
I guess the whole point is that we are nuts. We take for granted all the things in life that make our lives so soft and mushy. I will never really know what growing up “without” is like, but because of six days without power I am closer to understanding why parents save the plastic bread bags, turn off lights, and never waste food, why they shake their heads in wonder at the expensive electric toys that children trash and trade in for the next updated model that comes out every six months. We take power for granted. We take so much for granted.
In the words of J. R. Tolkien, “The World has moved on.”
In light of the global economy, the world has never felt so much like a house of cards, and Mother Nature has never seemed so angry.
Mother Nature gives us the water for free.
People make power…
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