The power of nothing

Electric power outages are rather common in Seattle at this time of the year. The city has a lot of trees to bring down power lines in windstorms and a lot of steep terrain vulnerable to landslides after heavy rain. But most of the time the outage is confined to a small geographic area β€” so it is possible to go many years without experiencing a power outage at your house. But last night it was my turn. There was not a storm though. The cause was an equipment failure and it was identified and fixed in a timely manner. I was without electricity for a mere ninety minutes.

My iPad was fully charged, and even though the internet was obviously down, I could have busied myself with some writing and played some downloaded podcasts for company. And my phone was also almost fully charged. But I decided to just experience the outage the way I would have twenty years ago.

I had recently bought a brand new flashlight which came with a battery installed, but I did not have a spare battery and did not want to run it down in case this ended up being an extended outage. (The longest I have experienced here was almost three days.) So I found my hand-cracked flashlight and just kept winding that every ten minutes. And I got out my battery-operated transistor radio and found a station that did not annoy me too much. It was a FM news station β€” but one that just recycles the same news every twenty minutes or so. I do not think residents of the UK fully appreciate how amazing BBC Radio is. I wish there was something like Radio 4 that I could tune into with a regular old-fashioned radio. But there is nothing remotely like it around here. (And the BBC World Service no longer goes out on Short Wave in North America πŸ˜•)

My apartment quickly got cold and I remembered what is the biggest inconvenience to me of a power outage: not being able to boil the kettle for tea. Dinner was a marmalade sandwich. But I thought of the thousands of people in Scotland and the north of England who have been without power for a week β€” many of them stranded in remote areas. Had I been really desperate for a hot meal, I could have walked or taken a bus to another neighborhood where the power was still on. And that is what many people do here. The prospect of sitting in the dark for a while is just too much to handle!

I spent most of the time just pacing in the gloom of my apartment and thinking β€” and enjoying the relative silence. I remembered the multi-day outage of 2006 during a spell of really cold weather. And then I thought again of the folks in northern Britain; and people in other places that have endured months without electricity following hurricanes and other natural disasters. I largely ignored the radio. I just wanted some of the outside world coming into my apartment for company β€” and it was good enough. When I lived in London, a million years ago, I played the LBC station all the time when I was at home. But I hardly ever listened to it. It was just for background company while I read my library book and drank wine. (I was too young for Radio 4 back then.)

When the power came back on, I was rather stunned. Usually, when the power comes back on, I am very relieved and quick to get back to my business. But this time I was rather sorrowful β€” and very surprised at my reaction. I must have been rather happy. My modem took a while going through its blinking-light routine as it came back online. So I left the radio on for a bit longer β€” not being in too much of a hurry to watch the videos I had planned for the evening.

For ninety minutes, I gave myself permission to do absolutely nothing. And I think it made me happy. I am going to try to remember the way I felt when the power came back on β€” and my surprise at realizing that I had been enjoying this change of pace.

However, if the power were still out tonight, I suspect the happiness would have worn out by now. And I really feel for people who are still waiting for their lights to come back on. But it gave me something to think about.

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