I was one of the lucky ones. Hurricane Sandy did not take anything from me that I can’t get back by going to the grocery store (now that it has groceries again). Some of my friends and family weren’t so lucky and I want to say that what follows here is not meant to suggest that the hurricane was a good thing by any stretch of the imagination. It was terrible and I wish it had never happened. So many people are still affected that my life’s return to normal remains incomplete no matter how many lights I can turn on or warm showers I can take. But because my experience with Hurricane Sandy was not as traumatic as it could have been, I was able to learn some interesting things as I spent those few days without power and hot water.
The most important thing I learned is that the computer is actually disconnecting me from life. I use my computer for just about everything, so you’d think it would be an aid to connection. But after about a day without power, I realized that my husband and I were paying more attention to each other. It’s not that we don’t normally talk and interact a lot. It’s just that we’re typically doing something on the computer at the same time.
I see people with handheld devices do this all the time, but I thought since our computers are large and stationary that we were safe. Not so! Sitting in our kitchen by candlelight with nothing to distract us except the radio, I realized we were looking at each other when we talked. We were doing more things together like making meals and washing dishes. When we were done with chores, we could not run off to our respective computers and relate only through random interesting things we found there. Instead, we played cards. My husband plays acoustic guitar, so we sang songs. We found ourselves involved in conversations wherever we happened to be sitting at the time, because there was nowhere we had to be. No email we had to answer. No Facebook we had to check. I was constantly fighting the feeling that I had to cut the conversation short even though I didn’t and that made me realize that the computer has become too powerful a force in my life.
I can honestly say that when the lights came on, there was a part of me that wanted to cry. At first I was confused by this. Surely the comforting glow of instant information is worth a little distance from my fellow humans. I waited for my excitement to grow. I can play the Sims! I can check the weather! I can listen to music of my choosing! Never happened. And to tell you the truth, except for the hot water, I’m still not all that excited.
But now I understand why I felt a loss when the lights came on. There was a palpable, physical change in my brain after a few days without power. My brain and consequently the rest of my body were much more relaxed with only day and candlelight to contend with. My eyes didn’t hurt. My thoughts were orderly, each allowed to manifest itself fully before giving way gracefully to the next. I expanded into the outer limits of my consciousness again, feeling for the edges with mental fingers that were no longer occupied with sorting through largely useless input. The things I did with my husband felt more intimate and detailed, like a faded engraving thrown into sharp relief by the right shadows. I felt connected to my life.
Obviously, there are enormous benefits to having the power on, but I have promised myself that I will not let the flow of electricity drown the little candle of my attention. It’s clear to me now that the only way I can truly see is with the right shadows.