On August 14, 2003, while driving home, I pulled in for gas. It was approximately 4:00pm. Little did I realize that at that same moment, power surges were knocking the entire Northeast electrical grid offline, in what became known as the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003. By the time I arrived home, there was no electricity to be had anywhere in town.
Like many people, my wife and I were caught completely unprepared.
All of our means of communication (telephone, pre-wireless computers, radio), our food supply (stove and refrigerator) and our access to our financial resources (debit and credit cards) were all taken away from us in the blink of an eye. Between my wife and I, we had barely six dollars of actual cash on hand. The only food we had that didn’t require cooking or cooling were boxes of crackers, some cookies and dry cereal. The radio in our car still worked so, we spent time huddled in our garage, straining to hear any detail that might help us to understand what was happening and how we should respond.
But, the funny thing about the whole situation was that, after our initial moments of prancing madly about in panic, we came to realize that we were actually ok. Our world had gotten very quiet but, we were not hurt or in immediate danger. Everything slowed down. Our world shrunk to the parameters of our physical environment.
So, we lit our candles. We dined on our crackers and drank some warm wine we had in the basement. A friend came by so we chatted the evening away. And then, the real magic happened. The stars came out. The same stars that are always there but which lay covered in a blanket of artificial light from below. The stars came out and they were everywhere! What beauty! What majesty!
There are many wonderful stories that emerged from that blackout. Stories of citizens who took the initiative to help direct traffic when the traffic lights went out. Folks with generators or barbeques who cooked meals for their neighbours or other passersby. People who called upon seniors and sat with them throughout the night in order to provide security and stability in a time of confusion. The good in our society shone brightly in the darkness of those hours.
But, what most people remember about that night is the stars.
Often, the most magical of moments are the ones you least prepare for. Those times when destiny arrives unannounced. My wife and I learned a lot about ourselves during that blackout. We are better prepared now for an emergency (in the sense of having a supply of food and water on hand at all times, having a small stash of cash safely tucked away in the house and so on). But, more than that, we have learned to slow down the pace of our lives and make time to enjoy the world around us.
Admittedly, we both still like our “screen time” and the access to information it gives us and the connectivity with the world it provides but, we also, realize the importance of making time for those “star-filled” moments that exist outside of the noise and hoopla, just waiting to be discovered. We make purposeful time, each and every day, just for us…..together and/or with our children….to talk about our day, to share our discoveries and our dreams, to go for walks and allow the beauty of the world around us to soak into every fibre of our being or, let’s be honest, to just be nosey, sometimes, too.
There was a time in our lives when we prided ourselves for our ability to multi-task and get so much done. How productive we both were. And, how little it really mattered when the power went out that August afternoon.
In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around, once and awhile, you could miss it.” The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003, gave us permission to stop the hustle and bustle of our lives and look around. What we saw in each other and in the world around us, was beautiful. It was the magic of a moment that revealed the joy and wonder of the world in which we live. For that, I am eternally grateful.
P.S. It is not by fluke that this work of art is my family’s favourite.