Reflections on a Life Unplugged

The below are thoughts after living six days without electricity or running water following the sudden outage caused by Hurricane Irene in early September 2011. Much of the world lives without electricity but the sudden and drastic change of lifestyle had a profound impact on me.

Importantly, we adjusted well, pulled together as a family and found a new way of surviving.

Most of this was written by hand with the light of candles and later typed.

The river was high and ran fast after Irene
  • Losing power and running water was hard. Not so much because of the actual loss of these things, but more because of the loss of our particular way of living. After a few days without power and running water, we adjusted to a new way of life. Mornings started with firing up the grill to make coffee in the French press. We made a daily trip down to the river with the lawnmower and attached trailer so that we could haul river water to the house to flush toilets that day. These things weren’t fun, but became part of our normal, daily chores. When the power returned and water once again flowed from our faucets, the loss of our new, low-tech standard of living to one with modern conveniences required adjustment, just as our transition to the blackout did.
My husband bringing water up from the river
  • The true luxury of living in the land of “Have” is the time and energy to think about and do things beyond that required to fulfill basic needs. Everything takes longer and requires more energy when water does not come with a simple turn of a knob. When one’s life is tied to the spinning of the Earth into daylight. I think that part of the gravitational pull of poverty and being a “Have-Not” is the lack of resources and options to focus on anything besides surviving. I know that any “extraneous” activities I attempted that week suffered simply because higher-level thinking was an expendable part of my survival equation.
  • Brushing one’s teeth with seltzer (to save the non-carbonated water for the kids) makes for an extra-frothy toothbrushing experience.
  • Hand sanitizer leaves a residue on one’s hands if its use is not interspersed with regular hand-washing. Soap and water are needed to CLEAN hands, not just to SANITIZE hands.
  • Our bodies adjusted to the sun’s schedule, even if we didn’t always heed our modified biorhythms so we could stay awake to star-gaze and drink wine on the incredibly clear, dark, quiet nights of the blackout.
We snacked on freeze-dried peas and fruit
  • On Day 4, the initial thrust of my stamina to keep a positive attitude and adapt hit a wall. Speaking with my husband about this reminded me of how fortunate we are: we had our house and we had our health. Lack of power and running water was merely an inconvenience and posed no risk to us. I regained my resolve and pushed into Day 5 and Day 6.
My sister-in-law brought us fun flashlights during Irene
  • Our first communion after the power came back on was intense for me. The symbolism of being given bread when food had recently been less certain was profound. I contemplated the miracle of providing bread and fish for the hungry crowd in a new light. I realized that spiritual “bread” is what we need most of all, as that more than anything helped to keep us strong during an insecurity.
  • Eight cups of water can go a long way when one uses it frugally. Eight cups of water were frozen into a Tupperware container and frozen to help keep our freezer cold after the power went out. As the eight cups thawed, some of it was used to rinse hands after washing with soap. Some of it watered orchids, and the remainder was used to help refill a toilet tank. How often do we waste eight cups of water without noticing that we are doing so?

    Ice thawing and candle burning
  • Now that some normalcy had resumed, I have allowed myself to admit that it was HARD to completely change our way of life for a week, particularly with two young children and without my prior consent. I’ve always thought of myself as a survivor and, hard as it was, I feel that the experience has only made me feel more empowered and more confident in my ability to adapt as circumstances require. Even if it’s not fun at the time.
  • As the Architect says in the Matrix, “There are levels of survival that we are willing to accept”. We will ALL survive many more hardships than we realize, it’s just a matter of what we are willing to accept as survival as we evolve with our ever-changing surroundings. This is no less true for psychological survival as it is physical survival.
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