Life lessons don’t always last

Ohio is part of this big storm damage-power outage-heat wave problem in the eastern half of the country. Our house lost power for five nights and six days. We threw away the contents of our refrigerator, freezer and a chest freezer downstairs. Our dogs panted each night away trying to cool off. We and our dogs stayed at a hotel one night and all four of us slept in our basement for two nights – which was surprisingly tolerable. The power came back on the night of the 4th of July and I was so energized and happy when that happened. And then last night, the power went off again. A circuit serving our house and 12 others in the neighborhood appears to have blown. And I have sort of gone off the deep end.

I think the forecast of 102 degrees today has a lot to do with that. I also had planned a full day of cleaning in preparation for my sister’s visit from California. I envision the house is coated by a layer of bacteria that settled in during the hot, breeze-less days. And there is much laundry to do. She booked a hotel earlier this week just in case, because my dad’s house has only partial power that doesn’t include air conditioning and it was hard to be hopeful about the power coming back on when we were in the midst of the outage. And as it turns out, there indeed is no comfortable family place for her to stay at the moment.

The realization that something was wrong began when I was listening to a voice mail from my stepmother last night on my way out of a movie at the neighborhood theater, which suffered through several nights of lost business during the power outage. She said our home phone wasn’t accepting calls. This concerned me. As we walked down our street, lights were on at most houses. And then there was our house, dark and quiet, the same as a few others on our side of the street. We walked around and could see the cluster of houses on our street and on the next street over that were dark. Neighbors were in their yards with flashlights. We made calls to the electric company and went to bed in our stifling bedroom. I tossed and turned for hours, listening to my poor 95-pound chocolate lab panting and panting, consumed with all the ways I hated the power company and wishing I could think of creative ways to express it.

During the first part of the outage, I tried to maintain perspective. At least I have my health, I would tell myself. I’m not unlucky like my mom is; I haven’t been stricken with a terrible disease. And I have access to an air conditioned office I could visit to get on the computer and charge our cell phones. There are many in my city and in other parts of the state who waited longer for their power to be turned on, or who still haven’t gotten their power – and we are nine days past the storm that downed trees and power lines. Some people in rural areas have no water because they need electricity to power their wells. Some people are in very poor health – so far, three people in Ohio who had chronic illnesses have been found dead in their homes. I am going to be fine. I am merely inconvenienced. But last night and so far today (it’s still early), I have been obsessed with how upset I am.

I so want to be a person who isn’t full of hate, who doesn’t complain, who can roll with the punches. Especially as I get older. I have tended to enjoy many aspects of aging because, though it isn’t apparent at this moment, I am more mellow than I used to be. A little less emotional and reactive. I am able to pause in the face of adversity and try to think before I talk. I’m still not great at any of this, but I do perceive myself as less explosive than I used to be. But I still have such a long way to go.

Not long ago, I posted about how I have learned during this experience with Mom that approaching the future with dread is no way to go through life. That good outcomes can follow the worst possible turn of events. So much of those lessons are lost on me right now, and I’m disappointed that I can’t seem to maintain that positive outlook. I will try to treat this trying time as a little case study once it is behind me, I think, so I can learn some more and hopefully figure out how to be the better person I want to be.

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5 comments so far

  1. Jenniferjayhawk on

    Oh Emily,

    I feel your pain. I have been there done that way to many times. Shortly before we moved from Kansas City we were going to buy a generator. We lived in a older home and everything was above ground. If the wind blew we lost power. Snow and ice storms would take us down for weeks. We had a fireplace in the basement and would hunker down there with the doors shut.

    A day or two is fun. Anything after that is a test of your every last nerve. Electric companies were always called in from other states and we would run out into the street screaming when they would finally arrive. Sometimes our neighbors across the street had power. They would always let us run an extension cord across the street so we could run a couple things (i.e. hairdryer, coffee maker and tv). Good times!!!

  2. patwhite67 on

    Emily,

    All of us who have been in the middle of the blackout understand what you are talking about. It does something to the psyche, the disruption.

    We were expecting our son and daughter-in-law from Tennessee. Luckily we were all able to do an about face and head north toward Niagara for a few days, an unexpected delight.

    I now keep an eye on the sky and weather channel, washing everything in sight to be ready in case it should return.

  3. Megan on

    You sound pretty enlightened to me! I don’t think you’d be a better person if you didn’t have human reactions and emotions. You’re real and aware of your state of being, without going so far as to take it out on others (even if you’d like to!)

    I think you said you’d started to explore Buddhism, and the teachers I’ve known the last 20 years have all said that the goal isn’t to push negative stuff away or to punish yourself by trying to change who you are in the moment, but just to be there and breathe and let the emotions come when they come and go whenever they decide to let go. And to have empathy for yourself and everyone else who has those difficult emotions, without judging or labeling them good or bad.

    I once heard someone say that trying to constantly change oneself is a form of violence. That stuck with me, because I have that tendency, to always hope that next year I’ll be more (blah blah blah), instead of being okay with my imperfections and as I am right now.

    So I’m no expert at this at all, but I certainly hear where you’re coming from and can relate to your frustration!

  4. Lesley Austin on

    I agree with what Megan said and also have to say that since we got a generator, I am much more at ease about it all. When you can keep the fridge cold and the well going and little bit of this and that, one’s “character” isn’t so strained. : )

    We live in the countryside, at the very end of our power company’s area and are always the last to be helped. So…the generator. Power outages were an adventure when the kids were little, but caring for Mom here now has changed everything. If the monitor can’t work, then I have to sleep next to her door with my ear straining to hear when she gets up. If the TV doesn’t work, the hours drag on for it is hard to keep her attention for long, etc. So we are actually looking into some sort of battery storage setup so we could have constant power for key things,without the generator.

    And one more thought…it does seem to be true that the older we get the less tolerance we have for fluctuations in temperatures.

    Hoping that is it for you and power outages for awhile!

  5. momsbrain on

    Hi, everyone! And thanks for the support!

    Jennifer: Your experience sounds worse than mine. The last time we had a prolonged outage was four years ago, and since the weather was nicer, it was much more tolerable. I have wondered about buying a generator, though it seems so noisy and I’m sort of cheap about investing in one that could make the most difference!

    Pat: How nice to make alternative plans like that. I’m glad it worked out for your family. I think the heat was the worst thing about all of it.

    Megan: I am such a beginner at Buddhism that I still have these wrong impressions. I’m working on acceptance vs. berating myself over my reactivity. And the concept of the constant pursuit of change as violence – what an interesting thought, and a way to remember that we deserve to have our own thoughts of loving kindness directed toward ourselves.

    Lesley: You remind me that I’m lucky that I don’t have my mom at home to worry about – or kids for that matter. As for age affecting my tolerance – amen to that. It’s amazing the toll it has taken to have been hot for all that time AND sleeping on a basement floor. My body still isn’t really recovered (our power was finally restored on Sunday morning). I’m stunned at how long this exhaustion has lasted.


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