“And The Moon Is the Only Light We See.”

18 March, 2010 § Leave a comment

OK, so my title is unashamed shout-out to The Temptations, that musical powerhouse, but what I really want to write about are powerouts. Can you remember the last time you lived through one? Until yesterday, I think my previous encounter with a widespread power outage (in the States, at least) was limited to the huge blizzard of ’97 that piled six-foot high drifts around our sprawling home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and gave us an extraordinary excuse to gorge on cinnamon buns by candlelight.

Like I said, though, that was until yesterday.

So there I was, lying in bed with my nose buried in the most recent fantastical tome when I heard a high-pitched squeak – – much like the mating call of a bat in flight, I imagine – – and then the lights flickered once before extinguishing altogether and plunging my entire room into darkness. “O man,” I thought to myself with a sarcastic roll of an internal eye, “what will this new neighbor of mine do next? First it was the exploding water pipes and no pressure of last week. Now he’s blowing fuses?!” Luckily for my neighbor and his blissful lack of awareness regarding my mental scorn (sorry, Ethan!), it didn’t take too long before I noticed that there was an unusual hush that had spread across my apartment, continuing and spilling over with a blanket of silence across the entire surrounding neighborhood.

In a world where accessibility is tantamount to the right for free speech (arguably a debatable personal “right” but that’s a conversation for another day, my friends), the inability to flick a switch, plug in the cell-phone or hear the humming of a fridge was strangely eerie. Although weekly and/or daily occurrences of city-wide power outages are a common, even expected, aspect of life in developing countries like those I experienced in Agadir (Morocco), Pune (India) and Kijabe (Kenya), we Westerners are unaccustomed to this sort of phenomena and the ensuing ruckus that took place across our small town alone, not to mention throughout the greater countywide map, proved to be a hefty testament to this presumptive mindset.

Youthful screams, irresponsible antics and late-night jam sessions outside our windows aside, the blackout provoked an almost unheard of atmosphere of camaraderie in our usually highly individualistic corner of the street. While it’s true that my 70-plus year old neighbor stood worriedly in her doorway, talking excitedly about “the enemy” that had “evil intentions” to “blow up” our nearby power plant (hey-o, conspiracy theorist, smart-mouthed my ever-snarky internal commentator, take it down a notch or two), my non-fuse-blowing neighbor bounded up the stairs with extra candles and a kerosene lantern in hand. Shortly thereafter, my sleepy downstairs neighbor also made an appearance, proffering a cheery commentary on the clarity of the night sky, the abundance of stars and even the good chance in having a blackout take place close to midnight rather than the dinner hour of, say, 8 p.m.

Swapping stories in our pajamas and loving every moment of shared laughter, Ethan, Margaret, Rose and I stood in a companionable huddle outside my apartment door, a group of individuals whose previous interactions had been limited to salutations in passing or the occasion request for a neighborly loan of a missing recipe ingredient. Margaret’s white hair stood out in an unholy but altogether adorable nimbus around her head, a comical departure from her normally well-manicured coiffure that was further accentuated by a spiky shadow behind her head, one cast by the flickering light of Ethan’s lantern.

Some time later, as I sat on the front porch of our big two-story white house and stared in awed, albeit shivering fascination (c’mon, it’s only March still!) at the usually obscured but now brilliant night sky, I wondered to myself: how many other similar opportunities for relationship-building do we miss out on because we’re too caught up in the self-reflexive circles of our own me-focused, compartmentalized, non-communally oriented livestyles? Last night, the unlikely late night conversation and unusual sense of community that sprung up between a 72-year old spinster, a camping fanatic, an accountant and an admission counselor didn’t hinge upon a course on evangelism or neighborhood outreach – – it didn’t require a masters in community development – – it didn’t even include a formal demeanor. No, all it took was a little electrical inconvenience and boom! we were jolted (quite literally) into an unexpected but altogether beautiful moment of friendship.

Turns out, one of my downstairs neighbors is already plotting the next “spontaneous” cessation of electricity… what? Too far?

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