Some events, whether expected or unexpected cause us to suddenly wake up and remember the journey. We’re not often happy about it but we’re always better for it.
On October 28, 2011, a freak snow storm plunged the entire northeast into darkness. Those of us who spent a sleepless night listening to the terrible crack of falling tree limbs and the sudden boom and sizzle of bursting transformers right outside our windows were not completely surprised when the new day revealed wide-spread devastation and a thick unnatural silence.
Days earlier, forecasts varied. Some local news stations predicted the coming storm might switch to rain (it was only October) or be so fast moving it would only have time to drop a few inches. Others warned of record snowfalls. My husband and I decided to believe the former.
On the morning of the 29th we discovered how wrong we were. Deep snow covered everything. It was beautiful, wet, and because the trees hadn’t dropped their leaves, mercilessly heavy. Small trees were bent right to the ground. Others had their limbs ripped off completely. Old oaks and maples had fallen onto houses and across roads. Some trees had managed to stay upright but most of these had their tops snapped off like twigs. It was a mess.
Power lines hung gracefully across intersections and snaked through front yards. The streets were empty of traffic. Nothing moved. No birds sang. No wind blew.
Everything stopped. The phone didn’t ring. We couldn’t turn on the TV. We couldn’t run our computers. We couldn’t boil water. We couldn’t turn on the lights. We couldn’t cook or wash. Every comfort was gone. In the blink of an eye nature had shown us how puny and fragile we were. In a few hours, my life had been tossed on its head.
My husband switched into survival mode. He found candles, made a make-shift refrigerator outside so our food wouldn’t spoil. He made sure the fire was always burning and kept us warm but as the days passed I got depressed. The fact that the situation was only temporary was not the point. The point was, everything that made my life work depended on power; my job, my health, my food, everything. I was nothing without it.
Like magic, power crews began to arrive from all over the country to put us back together again. They worked around the clock. The sound of chain saws was constant. Within a few days the snow melted. Blue October skies returned and street by street the power slowly came back on. Traffic began to return as trees were cleared. Businesses and schools began to reopen.
My family went only four days without power. Others were in the dark for weeks.
I’ve lived through power outages before but for some reason the October snow storm six months ago was a reminder that I need to wake up. The questions raised by those four days of darkness have stuck with me. How can I live a life that matters whether the lights are on or not? What is valuable? If I were going to be hit by another killer storm tomorrow, what would I do differently today? If I’m lucky enough to live another 30 years or 262,000 hours how would I like to spend them?
Every day I get mad at stupid stuff, complain my computer is too slow when I should be glad that I have one, rush around when I could be taking my time, wolf down my food instead of savoring it. Every day my creature comforts, my electricity and gasoline, my grocery store and internet, conspire to lull me back to sleep. I slip back into old patterns. I forget the cold, the discomfort, the uncertainty, and the strange alien silence that swallowed everything the day my busy, mechanized world came to a sudden stop.
Why can’t I keep the lessons of humility and gratitude fresh in my mind? I easily forget the journey and it’s only a matter of time before the universe sends me another reminder.