Yesterday evening a storm blew in, which ravaged a local weeping willow, which forfeited a substantial limb, which descended on a power line. And darkness covered the earth. This was about 5:20 last night. It’s now 2:50 the next afternoon.
But I’m not complaining. Actually, the incident reminded me of an occasion a couple years ago when a power outage left me and my roommates in the dark. We promptly lit candles and talked about – what else? – how dark it was. We also made a resolution: for the next week, we would live without electricity.
Going without electricity for a week these days is tough to do. This is not because we simply can’t bear the strain of powerless lives, but because it’s almost impossible to avoid. We laid down a couple extenuating ground rules, however.
(1) We were aloud to cook. We had a gas stove, but of course, it used electric sparks to light the burners. We all agreed, it was OK to turn on the stove in order to cook yourself a hot meal, even if your cooking had to be done by candlelight.
(2) Charging cell phones was permitted. Each of us needed to have use of our phones every day, so this had to be permissible. Using a laptop, however, even on battery power, was not OK.
I remember two things, primarily, from that experiment. First, my roommates and I all went out and bought candles the next day. We were excited about this new venture and how it might change us. It’s funny to me now to think of embarking on an experience anticipating personal change. It’s one thing to look back on an event and reflect on the change that has occurred. This seems a genuine and responsible thing to do. But to look ahead and anticipate deep, personal change seems somehow prematurely self-congratulatory. And that leads to the other thing I remember from this week of self-imposed darkness.
I don’t think I saw either of my roommates the rest of the week. I would return from work each evening at 5:00 or 6:00, make some dinner and take advantage of whatever sunlight remained. Then, I’d sit and wonder what to do in the darkness, and eventually light a bunch of candles and read a book. I’d do all this alone, while my roommates, no doubt anticipating the darkness that awaited them at home, struck out for more modern households with all their 21st century accouterments. I spent the week trying to live without electricity; they spent the week trying to live at other people’s houses.
And in the end, did any of us really changed as a result? After one week, I was just as happy to return to the electric age as they were to return to the apartment. I suppose, though, I was a little bit more proud to have accomplished something so minor. And they, I imagine, were a little more ashamed of their cowardice.
So, yeah, I guess we all did change in the end.