Commentary November 20, 2012

What I Learned From a Week Without Power

Note: It has been a solid month since I last wrote a blog entry. We endured 8 days with no power after hurricane Sandy, then another week with no phone or Internet. The disconnection and subsequent mad rush to catch up on lost work forced me to put many of my writing efforts on hold. I hope that this will be the start of more frequent offerings. 

If you are one of the lucky ones who quickly regained or never lost their power during Hurricane Sandy, good for you. We endured 8 consecutive days with no electricity, easily making it the longest blackout of my lifetime. As tempting as it was to complain, the knowledge of more catastrophic loss in nearby communities, not just of property but of lives, made me bite my tongue. Our family made the best of it, and as much as it was a teachable week for our 4 children, I have gotten some new insights as well.

For one thing, I now know more about candles than I ever knew as a boy scout. Take it from me, the long skinny ones give the best light. The fat candles may last longer, but once the flame sinks into the middle, forget it.

Gas fueled utilities are flat out superior. Crazy as it sounds, we never lost use of the kitchen stove or even hot water because our stove and hot water heater did not have electric pilot lights. I found out the hot water thing quite by accident; most people never run their water long enough to know it, or mistakenly assume that hot water is just some fortunate leftover that will run out and must be rationed. Not true. A gas fired mechanical hot water heater will allow you to have hot showers a week into a blackout. Drying off is chillier, but few things are as miserable as a cold shower.

That said, the simpler life dumbed me down terribly. Focusing so much energy on compensating for lack of creature comforts and enduring more knocked me down a notch or two on Maslowe’s Hierarchy. I found myself less on the ball, less decisive, and almost behind in regular conversation. It is just tough to be on my mental A-game when so many distractions, incoveniences, and unfamiliar efforts weigh me down.

I am not too dull to notice how adversity seems to bring out extremes in behavior. I observed both the best and worst in people when I saw neighbors helping each other and strangers get into shouting matches on gas station lines. Society is a fragile ecosystem. Take away a few components and some of us are primitive and barbaric. And a few of us ought not patronize self serve gas stations either (it isn’t rocket science!!).

Perhaps most of all, I’ll never take some basics for granted. Running water is a blessing. A hot cup of anything means more when you boil it in a kettle. A recharged mobile phone and a half tank of gas can make you feel invincible. And if you want to talk style, the new suburban status symbol isn’t a sports car in the garage- it is a generator.