the simple, the plain, the ordinary life

So I was one of the 800,000+ people who lost power in Southeast Michigan’s windstorms last week. I was, however, lucky from the word ‘go’ that despite the gale force winds, ALL of my old trees stayed firmly planted, as did my roof and siding, as many of my friends and neighbors were not so lucky.

03.2017_lights out_tree

My neighbor, who has frequently throughout my tenure living in this house, berated me for the tall pine trees that border my property (because they “make her yard too shady” – never mind that they are thirty years old if they are a day, and have been here long before either of us bought our houses, and which I shall NEVER EVER CUT DOWN) was unfortunately the recipient of a downed pine tree. Not one of mine. No damage to her house or any of her property, but dare I say, karma?

I was out for just about 72 hours. The timing on Mother Nature’s side couldn’t have been worse, because despite the unnaturally warm winter we’ve mostly experienced, the power outage was concurrent with an extreme drop in temperature, into the teens F. for 2 of the 3 nights I was out. Fortunately, Miss L’s dad and stepmom had power, and immediately took her, so I didn’t have to worry about her safety and comfort (can I say again how lucky I am?)  I had many offers of shelter, showers, charging places, wood, etc. but I had nowhere to take the cats. Plus, I stubbornly wanted to be in my house to make sure the pipes weren’t freezing and bursting. I was ready to go down with the ship, like Royal Tenenbaum’s ideal epitaph.

03.2017_royal epitaph

I have a woodstove that kept the house in the ’40’s during the outage, which was sufficient to sustain life and keep the pipes from freezing. I also have a gas range so I could boil water, and do a little cooking. But all in all it was a miserable and dehumanizing experience. The cats crouched and stared at me accusingly, and the three of us burrowed into sleeping bags and fleece blankets on a pad in front of the fire at night. Dirty, stressed, sleep deprived from feeding the glowing-sided baby chunks of wood throughout the night, refrigerator full of rotting food with no way to effectively clean it. Where I once loved the smell of woodsmoke, I began to thoroughly detest it on my clothes and greasy hair.

03.2017_lights out_night 3

I read at night by flashlight, made coffee in the mornings in the French press, and rigged the garage door so I could manually open and close it. At night, I pulled Finn in; in the mornings, I pulled him out so I could sit in the driveway with the engine running to charge my phone and check the DTE outage map. It never seemed to change. I didn’t receive any estimate on when my power would go back on, no responses to my emails. When I called to check my status, I was informed by a robotic voice that they could not match my phone number with my account even though I was looking right at my account with that phone number on my mobile app. I know that they had linemen working around the clock to bring people back up, and they brought in many crews from other states to assist – I don’t blame them for the outage. But it would have been nice to have a bit of an idea as to when I could expect power back. For a few bad moments, I was pretty sure I was going to run out of wood.

I did pretty well for the first 48 hours or so but the last night & day, it really took its toll on me. I realized how quickly the situation brought me down. I imagined I was living in “Dr. Zhivago”. I’d wake at night and see the moon hanging in the branches of the willow tree and feel entirely alone, with no connection to the outside world (except for regular messages from my brother, who has bottomless loyalty and empathy, and never failed to make me laugh). It made me think of the poem “The Moon and the Yew Tree”:

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.

I probably could have made it another 24 hours, getting down to the last of my woodpile; I was at Home Depot buying batteries and Envirocare logs, which my brother had suggested, when I got the notification that my power was back on. I didn’t believe it; the app had told me the same thing several times while I was actually sitting in the freezing house, staring at it as it cycled back towards “OOOOPS OUR BAD, YOUR POWER IS NOT ACTUALLY RESTORED!! LOL”. I drove home quickly; the dentist next door was still running his generator. I ran up the steps, greeted Emmett in the foyer with a head scratch, and flicked the light switch. Nothing. I sagged with disappointment and then girded myself for another dark, cold night. Then I heard a beep from the kitchen and the grinding noise of the furnace waking up in the depths of the basement. I flicked the switch again and stared at the miracle of modern electricity.

03.2017_lights on

I guess the upside to a few days of inconvenience is the realization of how blessed I am to live the life I do. It humbled me and made me ashamed at how many people live without the daily blessings that I take for granted; power. Heat. Water. The knowledge that I have safety and a roof and the ability to take care of myself, my child, my pets.

I cleaned the house, vacuumed, ran the washer and dryer, took a blistering hot bath perfumed with lots of scented bubbles; slept ten hours in my own bed, with the humidifier and the heated mattress pad cranked up to the max, and woke in the morning stretching and sighing in utter bliss. I had coffee while catching up on my Internet tasks. I picked a Sarah Blondin meditation before going to fetch Miss L (and take her dad and stepmom a dozen donuts to say thank you) – and the meditation was perfect:

“to the wealth that waits for me to turn my gaze toward it; to the simple, the plain, the ordinary life I get to live, I would like to say thank you; I would like to share my most sincere gratitude and love and appreciation to the simple, the plain, the ordinary life I get to live. I would like to say a most sincere thank you for all of the glory that waits for me to turn my gaze toward it. I thank you. I love you. I thank you.”

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