Friday, September 2, 2011

The Brighter Side of Darkness

A downed trellis was our only casualty.
"Darkness is to space what silence is to soundthe interval."—Marshall McLuhan

Recently, New Jersey was assaulted by the howling winds and torrential rains of Hurricane Irene. It traveled up the Garden State Parkway, jumping tolls along the way. A week later, many areas of the state are still flooded. Most of the wonderful mom-and-pop stores in nearby Denville ended up in the middle of a raging river and are now out of business—permanently altering the psyche of the town.

Steve and I were lucky that the worst thing that happened to us was that our metal trellis was ripped out of its concrete foundation and thrown down on its side—and we lost our electricity for a day.

Those of us in developed countries rarely have an interruption in our energy supply, so when it happens, it can be a startling reminder of just how dependent we are on things beyond our control. Electricity is necessary for our grooming (hot water), sustenance (refrigerator, stove) and entertainment (television, computer games, Internet).

"I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars."—Og Mandino

When the lights went out, we donned flashlights, lit candles, and then realized that we had no idea what to do with ourselves. Our activities were reduced to reading books by battery-powered booklights or brushing up on conversation. Undoubtedly, there will be a crop of "hurricane babies" next June. At first, the blackout seemed terribly inconvenient and boring. Eventually, I found it relaxing (less mental clutter) and reminiscent of when I was young and there was no cable, computers or Internet.

As children, we sought entertainment by running out into the neighborhood and playing with whomever was around that day. The rule was we had to be home by dark. Our parents chatted with neighbors as they did yard work. Everyone on the block knew everyone else. There was a sense of community and connection.

Denville: Flood insurance doesn't cover hurricane damage. [NJ.Com]
I remember having a very relaxing childhood. I went to school, played with friends, ate dinner with my family, did an hour of homework (only after fourth grade), watched television if there was anything interesting on the seven television stations our antenna received (Channels, 2,4,5,7,9,11 and 13) and went to bed. I also read a lot of books, drew pictures and listened to music on the radio. The technology in our home consisted of one black-and-white television, a radio and a rotary telephone in the livingroom—all conversations were public.

"Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."—Terry Pratchett

We were the Baby Boomers—the children of returning World War II soldiers. That upwardly mobile generation that protested against wars and social injustice instead of spending hours playing World of Warcraft or chatting on Facebook.

It's a Tilt-a-Whirl World.
My children do not seem very relaxed. They are in their twenties and always seem stressed out and exhausted. The economy is in a slump and the world is pretty grim—financially, politically and environmentally. We live in a blaring, fast-paced, electronic Tilt-a-Whirl. Perhaps it is a back-handed gift to have our power suddenly turned off, our incessant electronics silenced. Just for a short while, if we are prepared to accept it, the experience presents us with a soothing swathe of darkness.


  1. I am happy to say that my mom owns a business in Denville, and after 6 days of cleaning out, they managed to get out of the storm relatively unscathed. Water was up to the ceiling in the basement, but luckily nothing reached the first floor. Most of the Denville merchants are back open this weekend or will be early next week, and I'm sure will appreciate the business, if people are in the position to give it! But I have to say having grown up in Denville it was exceedingly hard to see it all under water. Count your blessings is indeed an understatement.

  2. We got a bit of water in the basement and I learned the joys of wet-vac'ing. Neighbors were kind in lending the wet-vac but no gentleman came to the rescue to see if I needed help. Another thing that was different when we were growing up... a woman alone was always offered help by a man willing to roll up his sleeves. Nowadays, the men all seem content to curl up on the sofa and watch football instead. Aparently, chivalry was also blown away by the hurricane...

  3. @ Katie...
    I am happy to hear your Mom's business is okay. Which one does she own?

  4. @Anon: yes, chivalry is dead. I learned that last winter when my husband's back went out, I shoveled by myself by hand while two neighbors--both men--used snow blowers and completely ignored me.

  5. Chivalry was done in by womens lib. You can't have your cake and eat it to.

  6. @Anon the 2nd: Chivalry may have been made archaic by women's lib; however courtesy has no such excuse. Also, it's "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." As a writer, poor spelling gives me a facial tic.

  7. It is a pity that everything flooded up. I wish that nature couldn't be that harsh and everybody can live a quite an peaceful life.

  8. Living in India, with Bangladesh as a neighbor, you are no doubt accustomed to hearing about flooding. It is sad to see people suffer anywhere. Thank you for your kind thoughts.