The Calm After the Storm: Reflections on the Gift of Electricity

Friday, June 29th, 10:50 pm.  I was lying in bed with my daughter Claire reading her to sleep when the wind started picking up.  Claire does not like storms, and her body was alert and tense like a cat.  I kept gently saying, “It’s only wind. It’s only rain,” and would go back to reading.  Then I heard the wind as I had never heard it before – the derecho wind.  It rolled with ferocity against the window, in and out, in and out.  Claire was doing her best to pretend that it was just the wind and rain I spoke of, but we both were quickly coming to a different conclusion.

Then the lights went out.

Claire is not a fan of the dark either.

Aided by a battery-powered lantern, Claire finally fell asleep after the storm had subsided – well past midnight.  As I left her bed for my own, I noticed how truly silent the house was.  No AC running, no ceiling fans, no humidifier, no refrigerator, no currents at all.  Just silence so quiet it seemed loud.  Having lived in cities or suburbs my whole life, I’m not used to such silence.  It felt eerie to me, as if the whole world had shut down – a kind of stillness through which whispers the deep mysteries of life and death.

It was dark, too.  No street lamps that usually keep the house slightly lit at night.  As I slipped between the sheets, a bit of light made itself known by way of the moon, Earth’s first night light.  I found myself palpably reflecting on what life before electricity was like, but my thoughts only went so far before sleep thankfully overtook me.

In the morning, the first thing on my mind was the fridge.  I tend to have more than a week’s worth of food in there, and now it stood the chance of spoiling.  Our house phones were dead, and we hadn’t charged the cell phones.  The Internet was down.  The air was warm and unmoving.

Claire’s anxiety continued to grow, as she prayed with all her heart that the electricity would come on before night came again.  We went out for most of the day to shift her focus and seek cooler air.  When we got home, the house was pitch black, but Claire was so tired from the night before, sleep came more easily.  Thank God.

At 5:00am, I was awakened by the sound of electricity returning.  The silence was replaced with humming and whooshing, as the air started flowing back into the house.  Claire woke up early in utter exaltation and celebration, like Christmas morning, and we went about our Sunday, so very grateful for the gift of electricity.  Every time I opened the refrigerator and felt the cool air, I felt gratitude.

One thing I learned from the derecho storm is that I don’t want to be without electricity.  Having a refrigerator, a phone, a computer with Internet access and some capacity to cool the air are all modern conveniences I would hate to say goodbye to.  But where that electricity comes from, that’s what I’d love to say goodbye to.

Electricity is an extraordinary invention, but we don’t need fossil fuel to generate it.  The extraction, refining and use of fossil fuel is poisoning our water, air and soil – not to mention cooking the planet – yet our government continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry, despite their obscene profits.  Renewable forms of energy like wind, sun, geothermal and water power are all available to us for the taking and do not threaten the future of life on Earth.  Yet these take a back seat to fossil fuel and its industry that has the money to buy elected officials and keep the dirty engine running.

If we continue to run our society on fossil fuel, the storms, droughts, heat waves, floods and fires will keep coming, with greater and greater frequency, as the planet continues to warm.  This is scientific fact that many would rather push aside in favor of the status quo.  Having been through this latest storm, I wish with all my heart that the people of the United States would wake up and insist we use our innovation and resources to make renewables the foundation of our future.

Claire suffering through two nights of no electricity will be nothing compared to what the future holds for her and all children.  We do have the power to change things, but only if we make the effort to speak up loud and clear, again and again, until our elected officials understand that the health and well being of the people they represent  – not to mention the planet we call home – matters more than the money they receive from the fossil fuel industry.

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Here in Baltimore, I switched to Clean Currents, which allows our home to be 100% powered by wind over coal.  It’s easy to do, still goes through BGE and is no more expensive.  One small step for a better world.  Check it out!

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