Storm Musings

Here in the mid-Atlantic, the weather has been downright crazy lately. The craziness was punctuated by a freak storm last week that left my neighborhood in shambles and my life upside-down … temporarily. Some musings to share. … Well, if you live in my area of the woods, you’ll know that we had a terrific storm sweep through toward the end of last week – Thursday night, to be specific. But if you live just about anywhere in the United States, you’ve got some kind of weather – temperature outside in the triple digits, forest fires set ablaze by lightning, tornadoes that seem to come in waves, and so on. I mean, this is some summer, folks!
So getting back to my musings: Last Thursday evening I had just gotten home from a lovely dinner out with friends, cleaned up the kitchen because we’d had a “little something” here before going out to eat, and was upstairs getting ready for bed … when all of a sudden the lights went out. Dark in my house for a few seconds, and then the lights came back on brightly … because I have two enormous generators, fed by three propane tanks alongside my house, that come on automatically when the power goes out.

Now the thing about those blessed generators (bless their hearts!) is that they are pretty noisy. (As are all the generators that had already snapped to attention all over my neighborhood and beyond!) So noisy in fact that I didn’t hear the 70-mph wind that also whipped through the neighborhood, taking down – along with the power lines – trees and some house gutters, roofs, and cars that got in their way. Didn’t know all that until the next morning when I ventured out to take a walk and survey the neighborhood. The lead photo shows a huge tree that blocked one of the main roadways coming into my subdivision; the next photos displayed at the end of this blog show a bit of my yard and back deck … just to give you a taste of what actually looked like a war zone outside.

That next morning I also found out that Comcast – my TV and internet provider – was down across the whole region. After several abortive attempts to get some kind of update and estimate for the resumption of especially my internet service, I got some kind of written message from a technician likely based in Hong Kong that service would be restored in a matter of days! I also discovered that even my iPhone, for some reason, couldn’t read my emails unless I turned on the “hot spot” and connected to the internet through my iPad.

To make a long story short, the storm damage and the internet downage (I think that’s a word that I just coined) continued for the next two-and-a-half days until finally, late Saturday evening, both the Dominion Virginia Power line and Comcast came back up almost simultaneously. As the title to this blog suggests, I have musings to share with you about this whole experience. Three to be exact.

First, when I discovered last Friday that I had no internet connection – not my house but the whole area – I panicked. I mean, I couldn’t work! I couldn’t be connected to friends and family and colleagues unless I called them! Couldn’t get work done that way! What was I going to do? How was I going to function? See, I have this book deadline and I’m right in the middle of contacting song lyric publishers asking for permission to quote from the songs they have published (like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” and “Cecilia” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”) so I don’t get sued by them after the book is published.

I kept telling myself, “Look, you’ve got power, you’ve got coffee in the morning, you’re comfortable sleeping in your own bed at night …” which didn’t help ’cause I couldn’t listen to my music on Pandora, couldn’t check email very well, and I COULDN’T WORK!

But here’s the musing: We are so connected to our devices, so wed to the internet, so completely connected to our iPhones and such, that when we find ourselves cut off, it’s like being cut off from life itself. (A slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean.) And that was brought home palpably to me last Friday when I had this meltdown.

Second musing: For two days I periodically walked around the neighborhood, as did others, looking at the damage and checking the progress of the county cleanup. But I also stopped and talked with neighbors not only next door (which I do periodically), but with neighbors three and four blocks away. We all stood around encouraging each other, giving hope and sympathy, commiserating with each other in our common plight.

Why is it that only a crisis brings out that kind of neighborly comradery? I mean, we might wave at each other, or say a perfunctory “good morning” or “good evening” in normal times. But when times are odd or out of whack, we stop, we chat, we sympathize, we have a fellow-feeling with each other. Why only then do we take the time to really connect as neighbors and as fellow human beings?

And so my third musing is this: I recalled an earlier book of mine titled Imagination and the Journey of Faith. The opening of chapter one of that work describes what happened in our part of Richmond on the night of 9/11. St. Mark’s opened its doors and we welcomed all to come and join us in a service of mourning for the 3,000 or so Americans who had lost their lives that day, affirming our solidarity with one another. It was a very moving gathering of the community – believers and non-believers alike. The church overflowed with the numbers of those crowding to get in and join in the ritual of grief and hope. And in the book, I made the following observation:

… That gathering reflected this sense of a common human bond that lies beneath our various social and cultural differences. In extremis, when our country is attacked, when a hurricane devastates a city, when a planet-shaking disaster like a tsunami wipes away a part of our world, we fall back on what is common to us all because, as John Donne wrote, “the bell tolls for thee.” Perhaps that is why the looting and general mayhem that also sometimes occur under those extreme conditions are so shocking to most of us. The looters seem somehow outside the bonds of humanity, outside that common bond that becomes so apparent when our collective backs are against the wall. (pp. 31-2)

So the power outage and the loss of internet connection brought out the worst and the best … at least in me. But I will say this: The self-knowledge following the musings – those musings about being an internet prisoner coupled with my joy in connecting with my neighbors near and far – was almost worth the turmoil of the experience. Likely I will have further opportunities for such musings in the weeks ahead.