I know we need to finish up the Then and Now story from the last two weeks, but something happened this week that inspired me to write this blog post. I wanted to put pen to paper (what a quaint, archaic expression!) before I forgot the entire episode. The operative word for this post, after all, is “forgot.”
I was driving to our local library last Tuesday night, to get my 80-something dad his 80th book on Winston Churchill (just kidding, but he likes ol’ Winnie a lot!), when the green marble sky above simply shook loose. It was a terrible beauty, to be sure. I immediately drove to the next side street and turned around to return home. I switched on the car radio to hear a sputtering crackling sound coming out of Chicago’s trusty all-news station. I knew this was not a good sign.
That’s how my journey into 72 hours of darkness began.
Upon entering our family room via the attached garage, I pushed the remote switch on the wall ~ as I have done tens of times each day. When the overhead garage door slammed shut this time, it was the last electricity our family would experience at home for three full days.
Everyone occasionally experiences a power failure during a wicked summer storm, but this was my first experience with an extreme power shutdown. The Chicago media outlets were buzzing about this latest weather disaster. For two full days, we viewed stunning photos and videos of downed trees, crushed cars and concaved roofs. True-life tales were told and power outages were tallied. At first, 400,000 households were without power, according to Commonwealth Edison, then 250,000, and then 90,000. By Thursday evening, the Com Ed execs bragged to the media that all but 11,000 homes were restored with power.
Our entire village was back up and running all the electricity it could muster just a day after the storm – with the exception of the east side of our street and the west side of the street that backs up to ours. Apparently, the transformer serving our sliver of suburbia required complex repair only a specially-trained crew could fix. The power was restored quickly to the homes across the street from us, shortly after the tree debris was cleared from our street. Their porch and living room lights taunted us for the next two days, as our family drove back and forth to the library and Starbucks to charge our cellphones and laptops. I envied my husband’s train commute into the Loop, where he could find plugged-in coffee-makers and working outlets. I borrowed space in family freezers for a few pricey foods, but the rest was hardly worth the hassle. We were further demoralized by zero sunlight during the daytime hours. The sky’s gray-green cast from Tuesday night continued for three full days – always threatening us, but never really doing anything.
The worse part of all was not the trashed food or the inconvenience. It was being forgotten. After the second day following the storm, when the power had largely been restored, the media simply stopped reporting on us. As just 11,000 homes remained “off the grid,” we were no longer newsworthy. No one cared. Our friends and family were afraid to inquire by text, phone call or Facebook wall. Even our college-aged son said his friends stopped tweeting their concerns. I couldn’t find a single online reference to the storm (or the power outage!) on Friday morning – and we were still 15 hours away from being restored at that point. Seriously? We were “off the grid” all right – in more ways than one.
As I lay in bed that last night of darkness, my mind raced with guilty thoughts of Katrina, Haiti, Ground Zero and other disasters. I thought of how we likely forgot their victims after CNN had left, and of the long and difficult days that followed for those left behind. Then, as always, my thoughts sprinted even further – to what it must feel like to be old and forgotten in our culture. How must it feel to live a full life of 80 or 90 years, with family, friends, grandkids, mortgage and career, and – due to fractured families and complicated circumstances – spend life’s final chapters alone and isolated? So many older adults live their last years “off the grid” for whatever reason. During my trips this past week to Home Depot (for flashlights) and Great American Bagel (for breakfasts), I’ve spent some time considering how no one really plans for the darkness . . . it just happens.
Back to Then and Now Part III next week.