15 September 2005

Confronting "Powerlessness"...Lessons From Ophelia

As I've so often heard in the most entertaining meetings, my mind is like a dangerous neighborhood and I shouldn't go there alone." Tonight I heard another great one - this young man was relating how his sponsor had told him, early on in his recovery, that if he felt he had come up with a great idea, to PLEASE call him (the sponsor) first - i.e., it's probably not a brilliant idea at all and may well be a dangerous one. You get the picture and again, I digress...

Very early on the morning of Wednesday, September 14th, about 25, 000 of us fortunate enough to call Wilmington home, were confronted with a state of powerlessness. No, it wasn't some huge Port City AA convention where we're encouraged to admit early and often, our powerlessness over alcohol or other addictive substance. Hurricane Ophelia took us all back to a time when there was no such thing as electricity.

The first few hours of being electricity-deprived can be kind of fun, after you get over the realization that coffee-makers don't operate on batteries, even though I think that should be a standard feature. The house becomes very quiet, the windows are opened as much as they can be without inviting the horizontally sheets of rain that threaten with each tropical force wind gust. Radios are enlisted and tuned to stations one would never listen to under normal circumstances. Propane becomes much appreciated as a source for heating up water, soup or grilling whatever meat seems most vulnerable. Having a bathroom without a window means that a shower is taken by candlelight and even that is kind of fun in a primitive sort of way - until the electric hot water tank is drained of its resources and warm water becomes chilly.

It's a good time to read, dust off a guitar or play a board game that brings a family together because there's pretty much nothing else left to do. Conversations spring up and take more interesting twists and turns as philosophies are shared and even a few confessions are made, in the name of avoiding boredom at all costs.

Things I learned courtesy of a brush with Ophelia...

Electricity is a very fine thing indeed and the sound of silence can be maddening after four hours or so.

Riding out a storm is much easier when all of the people you love most in this world are under your roof, even if they sleep most of the day away.

Coffee can be made by slowly pouring boiled water (courtesy of the burner on the outdoor grill) by emulating the function of an electrically powered drip coffee system.

Cell phone batteries don't last forever and should be used with great deliberation.

Surfing the Internet requires an active connection AND electricity to power up the computer! (Propane can't fix everything!).

Taking a nap is a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Hanging around the kitchen table, illuminated by the soft glowing ambiance of a cheap hurricane lamp, in the company of an 18 year old male and 22 year old female, who also happen to be our kids, listening in as they free-associate on a vast range of topics, is a golden opportunity to learn more about what makes them tick. The discussion can pendulate from poignant to playful in a matter of minutes. This may be the most precious side effect of a minimal hurricane, boredom and too much caffeine.

An unexpected day off in the middle of the week is a fine thing. An unexpected day off in the middle of the week with pay, is even better.

With four cats, one dog and about 20 finch aviary residents, silence seldom takes residence in this house. Watching furry and feathered family members behave and react to wild weather is nearly as entertaining, and far more interactive, than "Animal Planet" or "The Discovery Channel".

Having an excuse not to be engaged in vacuuming, laundry or running the dishwasher is almost as good as an E-Ticket at Disney World.

Listening to messages left on voice mail from faraway friends just checking in to see if we're holding up, is a reminder of how sweet it is to love, and to be loved, by folks who have crossed our paths in past years. It elicits warmth and is a fine reason to compile a gratitude list.

It doesn't matter how many fresh batteries you might have bought in preparation for a major weather event, if you don't have a few spare radios to place them in. Most people forget to buy the batteries. We forgot to buy the radios. DUH! However, even this faux pas had the nice effect of collecting us all in the same room to listen to what was going on in the world outside of the street where we live.

Gathering the family to take turns reading essays from ANY David Sedaris book is guaranteed to produce giggles. (Great idea, Katie! But I bet you knew I was going to say that...of course you did.)

It's incredible just how much of our lives are dependent on an electrical current for smooth operation. It's even more astonishing how the best parts of our lives, our relationships and the things that touch us most, the things that fuel our hearts and souls, are powered by a current that makes electricity pale in comparison.

An unknown quantity of uninterrupted time is perfect for reading a great book. There is something primitively delicious about reading by candlelight.

Being surrounded by neighbors who are also in a state of electrical powerlessness is somehow buoying and invites a calm sense of camaraderie. Seeing homes "lit up and running" from a still "amp challenged" home, doesn't bring out the best in us and invites very ugly comments and thoughts toward the "haves" from the "have nots".

I learned that it's exasperating to listen to the radio as morons call in to describe how "amazing!" it is to have only experienced a few moments of an interruption of power, yet complain bitterly that they are being forced with the hardship of having to deal with no cable or Internet connection; a reminder that there are idiots among us and many of us nurse an unattractive, but undeniable, wish for hardship to visit such "I want it all!" people.

After about 8 hours, the novelty of a blackout wears off. Playing "Little House on the Prairie" gets mighty old as the desire for hot, fresh coffee, Pizza Hut Delivery and warm water with which to take a shower overrides the over-rated simple pleasures.

Fellow family members become easier to be around when they are sound asleep.

It's amazing how many things you can think to cook that would never cross your mind under normal circumstances, when the kitchen is fully functioning.

Air conditioning is a mood enhancer that could rival any SSRI, and a beautiful thing.

Listening to someone repeat how "bored" they are after about the twentieth time, makes you want to slap them silly and can trip off a string of rarely employed expletives.

I find it curious how miraculously writer's block disappears when the computer is inoperable. It's even more crazy how much you want to strike someone who points out that you can always use a simple pen and paper, after all, isn't that how they used to do it? Grrrrrr...

About 12 hours of no power makes such tasks as cleaning the bathroom or straightening out the garage look like fun times. For that matter, why is it that all the things you would, under normal circumstances, go out of your way to avoid doing, suddenly look halfway inviting? I HATE loading the dishwasher, folding and putting away clothes and painting baseboards 99% of the time, yet when it is impossible to do these things, I almost find myself pining for them. Good thing those crazy thoughts disappear about five minutes after the power is restored. That could seriously mess with your head, not to mention alter your procrastination quotient!

Getting by without ice might be de rigueur in Paris, but on a humid, oppressive, dark afternoon in North Carolina, it's absolutely no fun and void of any charm. It's just plain wrong. We are a nation that needs a lot of ice and a lot of tea to pour on it.

So my family and I have just experienced and easily survived our first hurricane together. Ophelia was, in cyclonic terms, a minor storm being classified as a Category One. However, the trees around our house bent to the point that a few of them looked as if they were on the verge of snapping like toothpicks, during some of the more high velocity wind gusts. There were times when the rain truly did sting as it made contact with exposed skin. When all was said and done, we were left with several broken branches, scattered leaves, a pool that overflowed its boundaries. For a person that grew up among mountains (which I hate) in a state that shamelessly boasts of containing way too many of them, if you ask me, a Category One hurricane is fairly formidable...and understand, a few years ago a tornado blew the roof off of my Amarillo home, so I've weathered some weather.

Even during the gustiest of the gusts, what we felt yesterday didn't come close to what Katrina dealt to the Gulf Coast. I can't imagine going through such a storm and yesterday only made me even more in awe that anyone survived that behemoth of a storm. Every person and animal who did, is nothing less than a miracle. If anything, Ophelia made me consider both the fragility and sturdiness of life; Fragile in the sense that we are all so exposed to all manner of elements that could do us in at any time. Sturdy in that though we do get knocked around, we somehow manage to pull ourselves up and get right back in the game.

Surviving Miss Ophelia didn't require any special stores of strength or deep well of reserves. It demanded little of us and merely inconvenienced us by forcing us to go without cool air, ice cubes and Internet Access. Surviving Katrina, well, that must have been something else all together. All I know is the who have lived to tell the tale that was Hurricane Katrina, must be made of amazing stock. After yesterday's little breeze, my empathy and admiration for their determination and fortitude has grown exponentially - way off the Saffir-Simpson Scale.