When the power went out in our house Sunday afternoon, I was able to e-mail a friend and neighbor (thanks to my trusty BlackBerry) to ask if he’d lost power, too. He wrote back to say yes, adding: “But Jews were powerless for 2,000 years, and we’re still here.”
A sense of humor can be a big help in difficult situations, and we needed it last weekend. My wife and I were very fortunate and deeply appreciative that our problems in the wake of Hurricane Irene were relatively minor inconveniences, and nothing worse. But they certainly made us appreciate the everyday comforts we take for granted, like electricity, running water, telephone, refrigerator, freezer, air conditioning, Internet access, etc.
The power outage that affected our town and several others nearby surprised us. By midday Sunday, the rain had stopped, the winds had died down, the sun was coming out, and we’d just begun to think the storm was behind us. And then, suddenly, no power.
That brought neighbors out into the street to discuss what they’d been through and what they’d heard, and it felt good to converse after hunkering down in our homes during the storm.
We all agreed that we’d been lucky. The driving rains of the previous 24 hours had not been as bad as the raging hurricane we’d feared. But we heard that trees were down, perhaps power lines, too, in other neighborhoods. We swapped stories about how much or how little water was coming into our basements and garages.
Those on the block who’d purchased generators to see them through just this kind of situation — the same folks who’d bought snow blowers last winter — seemed to be in the most upbeat spirits.
But then we heard that the gas and electric company was telling callers that the power in our town could be out for up to a week. “Oh, that’s just to cover themselves, it won’t be that long,” someone said.
Later, though, I talked to a friend who reminded me that her house was without power for five days during a bad winter storm a year and a half ago. I wondered how she and her husband managed to stay home that long on those dark cold nights.
Late Sunday night we were awakened by a recorded message (on an old plug-in phone we’d found in the basement) from the township that said to alleviate major flooding, a nearby dam was going to be opened at 12:01 a.m. that might cause flooding in low-lying areas like ours, and that it would be best to evacuate.
How bad would the flooding be, and where were we supposed to go at that hour, we wondered. A call to the local police department assuaged our immediate concerns. We were told that the announcement was a precaution and, after being questioned about where we lived, we were told that our house was not in any danger of further flooding.
But when our home alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. — such a loud a noise you couldn’t think straight — we wondered if the house was on fire. Or being flooded. Or burgled.
Whichever, we tried to turn off the alarm but of course we had no power, so that didn’t work. Five minutes later, as we stood outside in the cool night air, three fire trucks and two police cars pulled up. We were embarrassed at the needless fuss we were causing — it turned out the alarm battery had died from lack of power — but the firemen and police officers couldn’t have been nicer, assuring us that this was a common occurrence in the wake of the storm.
After the excitement, I tried going back to sleep, but in vain. My heart was still pounding from the sudden awakening, the awful sound of the alarm, and worries about what other wayward adventures were in store for us before the power, and a sense of normalcy, returned to our lives.
Truth to tell, I couldn’t wait to get back to work early Monday morning, anticipating the miracle of electric lights, phone calls, high-speed computers, e-mails and a smooth shave. But I’d like to think the previous day’s experiences had left an impression on me that would not quickly fade away.
Having witnessed countless scenes of truly horrific devastation on television, from earthquakes, fires and tsunamis to tornadoes and Hurricane Katrina, I no doubt had become somewhat inured to the pain that people go through when their houses are destroyed in an instant, and precious possessions swept away, not to mention the loss of loved ones. We stare at the fleeting signs of the destruction and then the camera moves on, and so, too often, do we.
I need to remind myself each day of just how much I take for granted.
Jewish ritual helps the process, providing us with specific blessings for a wide variety of occasions, from the everyday (the food we are about to eat) to the extraordinary, like a hurricane. The blessing we say on experiencing such an awesome storm blesses God, “whose power and might fill the world.”
Waiting at home for the lights to go back on, I am mindful that there is a higher power than the gas and electric company.