As I write this, we will have been out of power for some 20 hours. In our house, that means no heat, light, water, electricity, or WIFI.
I was in the dentist’s chair when it happened, my first appointment there since 2019. My teeth showed the neglect of 10 dentist-less months, and a promise that I’ll have to more than make up for it.
When I came out, I discovered that a microburst had passed by overhead, accounting for why the hygienist’s lamp had gone off and on as she worked on me. It was short, unexpected, and felt like a tornado had gone through, leaving some 88,000 folks in the state without power.
Driving home, I looked at the dark houses I passed, ticking the towns off in my mind (Deerfield’s out, Sunderland seems to be OK, Montague’s out), and as I got closer to home I discovered that trees had fallen on both entries to our street, taking down overhead electric wires as well, and isolating some 10 homes, including ours, from everyone else in the dark neighborhood.
I parked on the side of the road before a fallen tree blocking any further progress, talked to a policeman who sped off after giving me good news (“Those wires are hot! Don’t touch them!” and “Trees are down everywhere, we won’t get to this for a long time!”), and clutching my new toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste, circled the tree, avoided the electric wires, and ran into my neighbors walking on the road.
“I’m going to try to saw off part of the tree to at least give you folks a chance to get through,” the man said. “Better hurry before there’s no more light left.”
He wasn’t doing this for himself—he and his wife could go down their driveway and hit the road unhindered—he was doing this for those of us who were stuck. This is not uncommon in New England. People hope the police, utilities, etc. will come through, but there’s a lot of do-it-yourself initiative. It’s not at all uncommon for folks to get out their electrical or battery-powered saws and start cutting down tree limbs and branches blocking roads.
So, I began writing this post last night, working by the garish white of the computer screen and a small light from a battery-operated lamp, Aussie sleeping on the living room chair, no heat. And let me tell you, when you don’t have the basics you’re used to, you find yourself damn grateful for the fact that it’s not yet too cold, that there are extra blankets, and that there are utility workers out there laboring round the clock to give you all the other things you’re accustomed to, along with police, firemen, and first responders. That doesn’t happen in every country.
I was spared wondering whether I should put on the Vice-Presidential debate or not, since in a short time my computer died. I love watching the wrestling match between Aussie and Henry (In this corner, weighing at 48 pounds, the obnoxious, nasty, aspiring White House dog, soft-eyed but don’t you believe it—Aussie Marko! And in this corner, weighing at 12 pounds but making up for it with his locomotive energy in fetching balls and anything he could get his teeth into, including Aussie—Henry Begley!). Right now, that’s as much melodrama as I can take.
I sat in the dark last night and enjoyed the silence. And it really is silent when you lose power—no furnace gearing up, no dripping water, no whine of WIFI, no pings of incoming texts or emails. You don’t get how noisy our homes are at night, even in the country, till you lose power and remember that night is all about: darkness, silence, the outer landscape fading as the inner comes to the fore, subtly murmuring
Murmuring what? Aloneness, apprehension, how breakable I am. How all it took was a 10-minute microburst to leave me and many others power-less, mocking our pretensions, restoring scale. A good thing. I’m just human. That’s all, and that’s enough.
I remember how much I need everybody else, like my neighbor, Peter, trying to saw off part of the tree that totally blocked the road; the utility and municipal employees working all hours; my housemate who went out and brought coffee from McDonald’s this morning after I got up, still wearing my warm sweatshirt and socks. And finally, Leeann Warner, who takes Aussie out for walks.
“Leeann, are you taking the dogs out today? I have no power but can bring Aussie since I left my car down the road yesterday.”
“Yes, we’re going with the dogs, so bring Aussie, and bring yourself. While I’m out with them you sit in our warm dining room and work here, no problem. And help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen.”
I discover that my real strength comes out of asking for help, receiving it, saying thank you.
It’s interesting to me how since the New York Times broke the story of how Donald Trump, our billionaire president, paid little or no taxes over the years, most analyses focused on how this proves that he’s no great shakes as a businessman regardless of how much he boasts. Only a few called out the other element, and that is that he gets so much for nothing.
When you pay no taxes, it means you don’t give your share for the services you get—national defense, the maintenance and building of bridges and highways, the diplomats, the courts, the first responders. One can have disagreements in all these areas, but we are served living under their canopy, some more, some less. I think of the low-income folks I know who are so careful to pay their taxes on time even as they grumble at how much or little this leaves them with. They can’t imagine a tax-paying record like Trump’s. They don’t believe in getting something for nothing.
My friend Jon Katz, in his Bedlam Farm blog of this morning, reminded readers of the effects that strong steroids have on people. Donald Trump was given very strong steroids this past week. Jon’s post reminded me of what happens to me when I’m given steroids for asthma attacks—and it’s nothing as strong as what Trump was given.
I remembered how manic I get, filled with bursts of energy followed by a downward spiral of exhaustion, cycles of booming optimism (I can do this! I can do everything!) and bust (I’m gonna die!). These are well-known effects of steroids. The best thing you can do for yourself and those you love and care for is to take things easy, be aware of the mood swings, slow down, surrender to the professional advice of those taking care of you. You’re not yourself, you’re erratic and unstable, you have to be careful.
Trump doesn’t do any of these things, agreeing to talks on helping people at this time of covid, then breaking the talks off, then taking them up again, then saying he’ll be at next debate, then saying he won’t be at a virtual debate (that won’t be the end of the story). Is anyone telling this man to stop? Is anyone reminding him that he’s still ill? If they are, he’s not listening. And so the country goes.
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