Things I learned from Irene

Composed with pen and ink on Monday afternoon, August 29:

As I write this, thanks to storm Irene, we are nearing thirty-six hours without electricity (except what can be run in the window from our van). What’s odd about this little episode of inconvenience is that I’m actually dreading its coming to an end (the Long Island Power Authority assures us it eventually will). I’ve learned – and remembered – some things about the world during the past few days, things that seem valuable enough to record.

Time has slowed to a crawl in the hours since early Sunday morning. The reason isn’t far to seek: I have much, much more time at my disposal. People can’t reach me on either land line; neither is working. They may be trying to email me, but I’m oblivious. Even our cell service has been spotty. The net effect is that I’m not tied to my phones and computer. There’s no way to watch TV or a movie. As in, I suddenly have hours and hours available that would ordinarily be eaten up by a machine. I have stuff to do, but there’s more than enough time to do it all in. I’m briefly removed from the acceleration and omnipresence with which the last two decades of digital technology have blessed us. It brings back memories of a youthful world I once knew, years ago (many years, it seems).

Wonder of wonders, with more time has come more connectedness with people. Yep, it’s true: Dad has more time with his kids when he isn’t sending emails and they aren’t watching a movie. We’ve raked the yard together (twice!), played dominos together, read books, and – shockingly! – enjoyed three meals a day together. My five-year-old commented particularly on this last phenomenon: “Dad, how come you’re eating with us all the time?”

Or let me speak of time with my wife. Deprived of the never-ending voyeurism of Facebook, away from the mental burps of the Twittersphere and the relentless incoming surges of email, we have found ourselves face-to-face – and not out at a restaurant, in our own home! After the kids were in bed last night, we danced by candlelight to 1930’s music (played on a battery-operated radio) in the living room. That would never have happened if the Internet was working.

The connections have been more than just domestic. No one from the church could get a hold of us yesterday, so a family actually came to the house last night to check on us. I can’t express how moving that was. Not a text, not an email, not even a phone call – an unannounced visit. It meant the world. So have the kindly visits since then, dropping off packs of ice for our food supplies. Real-life, real-time, face-to-face community. I mean, it’s not quite the same as a poke on Facebook, but we’ll get all that back shortly.

Did I mention that I met my neighbor? Ran into him out on the street last evening (I haven’t seen this many people out walking in our neighborhood since the block party), and he needed a three-prong adaptor for a pump he was trying to run in his basement. I happened to have one, we struck up a conversation, and by today we were raking our lawns together while our kids played in the leaf piles rained down by Irene. For a moment or two, it was like living in a real neighborhood, where people across the street know each other by name and have something in common besides a ZIP code. Why? Well I, for one, had the time. Nothing else more urgent to do. My brain wasn’t plugged into the data-force that is the modern world. I was . . . available.

So anytime now, the electricity will come back on, and when it does, I’ll rush to post this on my blog, check my email and Twitter accounts, and read the latest avalanche of news. Life at breakneck speed will resume. And I wish it wouldn’t. I wish I could just sit here writing with pen and ink, while my wife sits on the couch near me reading, and my kids play in the yard. I wish the hum in my ears could be the katydids I hear right now, instead of the white noise that usually drowns them out. I wish I could look up through my skylight every night and see the stars the way we did last night, when there weren’t a million lights to push them out of view. I wish the quiet in my soul could go on and on, pouring out in prayer and meditation, study and observation, unhurried love for my family, and unrushed availability to my neighbor. I wish I had the fortitude to live in a world of digital speed and not lose composure. I wish I could ride the storm of hurry and not end up with hurry sickness. Ready or not, the storm’s coming back. Maybe that’s why the Lord sent me these lessons from Irene.

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