Sunday, December 9, 2007
Walking in a Winter Wonderland . . . or Not.
One year ago last week, we had an ice storm, and I wrote this. I'd thought about submitting it somewhere, but I got busy with the holidays, so it got pushed to the back of my computer (so to speak). Today, all the trees and houses and roads are glazed over, although the forecast is not suggesting another armegeddon. I remembered I'd written this, and it still seems appropriate. So I thought I'd share it with all of you . . .
I never would have believed that five days without power following an ice storm would help me see how lucky I am, but during a phone call with my mother-in-law Vivian, that’s exactly what happened. When our power first went out Thursday evening, we embraced the adventure. My husband started a fire in the fireplace; I lit candles. We gathered blankets assuming that by morning we’d be making waffles and warming up while we gazed out the windows at the icy wonderland.
By Friday afternoon when the utility company said we might not have power restored until Sunday or Monday, and the temperatures dipped into the single digits, I fell into a survivalist’s mentality. My husband left town on business; I stayed home with my dog. My world narrowed to the living room, heated by the fireplace and the kitchen, where I could use my gas stove. All the hotel rooms were booked, and while friends who had power invited me for meals and visits, I couldn’t move in with them because that would involve bringing along my 2 year-old Golden Retriever, who, while cute and sweet, had never been invited back anywhere he’d visited.
I hunkered down and began to see how victims of natural disasters could become paranoid and resentful. Driving down streets that had been dark but now had power, I’d think, “Why them?” When I saw holiday lights, they seemed excessive. When I called City Hall to see if there was any timetable for the power to be restored and was put on hold, I’d fume, “Are they sitting in the back drinking coffee?” On Monday morning, I took myself out to breakfast, and when the waitress brought me wheat toast rather than the English muffin I’d ordered, I had to fight back the tears. This is more than I can bear, I thought. But then, Vivian called.
I’d just emptied my refrigerator and freezer of spoiled food. The phone rang just as I was coming back in from hauling it out to the garbage. Vivian’s warm voice washed over me. She was worried. And somehow, right then, I knew how lucky I was. I could empty my refrigerator knowing I could refill it without blowing my budget for the month. I could take myself out to eat without worrying about paying next month’s rent. I had gas in my car. Most of the world’s population would trade places with me—even without power. Who was I to complain? My house hadn’t been blown away by a storm or tsunami. No one had died.
And then I started thinking about how easily I often overlooked real storm victims. Sure, I pay attention at first, and if I have a personal connection, I worry and contribute money, but all too quickly I’m caught up in the minutiae of my own life and move on. I knew now that people who had turned on their holiday lights weren’t flaunting what they had; they were simply getting back to normal. So, when my power came back on at 11:18 on the fifth day of our blackout, I cheered and told the utility worker that I loved him rather than ask him what took so long.
What I want to take away from my brief refugee status is not a litany of woes and what I had to do without, but a real appreciation for all that I have. For the friends who took me in and brought me coffee. For the roof I have over my head. For the heating bill I can easily pay.
I want to remember this the next time I hear about people in the cold or the dark, people who are making do with much less during much worse. And I hope it will keep me from immediately changing the channel or turning the page.