Darkness Weathered

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I owe our successful weathering of #Nika outage to the wisdom of my Dad,
The Colony, Survivorman &, of course MacGyver.”
‏@KeithKarabin ·Feb 11 (via Twitter)

 I’ll never forget the sound of the wind for those five nights. It wasn’t particularly strong or loud, that’s what made it all the more disturbing; it was that everything else in our cute little neighborhood had gone still. No house lights, no TVs, no HVAC systems roaring into the night. The occasional generator—distant, sounding even more isolated—was all that could compete with the wind. The generator was an unusual, temporary sound that served by counterpoint to add intensity to the wind, as every hollow gust said “I’ve been here the whole time.”

As you can see from the picture above, even the cars were cut off due to the giant limb that was brought down on the power lines in front of our house by Winter Storm Nika. That night, cell phone on battery saver, huddled under blankets in front of our gas fireplace, I read that we Karabins lived in a county that had been just declared a natural disaster zone and we were now part of 50 to 70 thousand people without power.

It wasn’t Hurricane Katrina, and I wasn’t watching New Orleans drown. It wasn’t Hurricane Sandy and I wasn’t clicking the internet for images of the Jersey Shore being blown away. It was my house and I was watching my wife and daughter sleep on my daughter’s mattress, pulled in front of the fireplace, and piled with blankets. My daughter still wore her snow hat.

 

Going Dark

 house2

Made it through Night Two. Darker, chillier but warm enough & bright enough, indeed.
Thanks to all who got us through Day Two.

@KeithKarabin ·Feb 7 (Via Twitter)

 As a therapist I often say “It’s just as okay to cry when you’re sad as it is to laugh when you’re happy; the right emotion for the situation.” I felt every emotion over those six days. I’ll share a few joys, and a few pains, and some observations, of course. Paramount over them all, always there the whole time just like the wind, was a very complex feeling.

This feeling has taken me weeks to parse, and is part of why I didn’t write this post when the power came back on. I needed to sort things first. The feeling is one part loss, of the electricity, but also of our day-to-day lifestyle; our dear routine. The feeling is one part dread, the constant burden of adapting to a loss that you hate, that has become your life. This is mixed with the uncertainty and lack of control over when the loss will lift and normalcy will return. Sprinkle dashes of minor frustration (reflexively turning on and off impotent light switches) and stew in a constant physical, mental and emotional exhaustion and you have the feeling. I’m calling it, simply, darkness.

I felt that darkness alone on the first night as I read Governor Tom Ridge’s pronouncement of my home as a natural disaster. The darkness rose and fell in me throughout the six days. It had a lesson and the lesson is simple as its name. “It’s just as okay to get dark in darkness as it is to laugh when you’re happy; the right emotion for the right situation.”

I was dark during those days, emotionally speaking. I wouldn’t even call PECO, knowing that we were helpless until we saw the limb gone. I joked and laughed to keep myself and my family joyful, but it was harder. I managed my frustration constantly, and still failed often. I was just like my cell phone; the little heart on battery-saver mode and some functions were just set to maintenance. But that was okay in darkness.

b1I was unfocused at work, which was eerily running with electricity, thanks to hospital generators. I would arrive late after making a hot breakfast for my girls and I on the camp stove on the deck and leave before sunset could steal the light we needed to set up the house and all the while charge up the electronic devices which would get my family through the next night. But that was okay in darkness.

I lost weight due to eating less and increased need to move around. I shaved poorly and looked haggard after morning routines by candlelight and showers of steam, fearing that first step back into a cold hallway. But that was okay in darkness.

It was okay in darkness because the emotion fit the situation. It wasn’t fake; it wasn’t forced. It was real, and there were many times that we, as a family, had to acknowledge that we all hated this, we all were tired and we all were a bit sad. But in acknowledging the darkness, we also allowed the light to be just as real when it shined.

 

You Are Never Without Power


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Day 6 is the LAST DAY! The blue canary is back in the outlet by the light switch,
but we always had a little birdhouse in our souls.

@KeithKarabin ·Feb 10 (via Twitter)

My wife said, just this week, “We wanted for nothing” during the darkness. That is because we did it together. We made adjustments, we adapted and we focused on what we had. We had more than many; we had a natural gas fire place and water heater, this we knew. Part way through, I realized with just the humility to ask for help from our neighbor and a 100 foot extension cord, we could have enough electricity (one outlet) to run our chest freezer which saved me from my routine of filling gallon zip close bags with snow and allowed for the occasional use of a microwave (YAY!). Plus, when the darkness really closed in, we could watch a DVD on our living room TV, even if we were still surrounded by candles.

The darkness was a reality; powerlessness was not. We had power, just not electricity.

b2We had the power to prioritize. Hot coffee in the morning and a hot dinner at night, those were priorities. A separate set of “night time warmies” that were a conglomeration of PJs, robes, gloves, hats and (for me) under-armor helped bring comfort. That extension cord brought a glimmer of our average routine after days of darkness, and that was a priority. Everyone being warm as possible, safe and fed were the only key things. Everything else dropped many notches.

We had the power of people. It cannot be over-said: Our family, our friends, our co-workers and our neighbors kept us sane. Both of our bosses were incredibly flexible, we commiserated with neighbors and shared what we had—even if it was just no new or good news about the power coming on. My sister gave use of her washer and dryer (and did the loads!) when the piles became too high to overlook. Then, when PECO’s repair threatened the possibility that the electric on the whole street needed to be cut (putting my blessed 100 foot extension cord, in jeopardy) and another snow storm blew in to delay the anxiety further, my Dad and his friend arrived to deliver a generator.

We had the power of our partnership. My wife is my best friend, a gifted person and an incredibly strong woman. There were many “I’s” above, but that was for grammar’s sake. There were no “I’s” in the darkness; everything was a “we,” and I couldn’t have made it without her. Our daughter—though well beyond her need for normalcy by the end—was also a light in the darkness, as was the core life we’ve built together. I never want to go back to that, but like sifting sand, once the comfortable routine of our life was shaken away, we were able to discover and re-discover hidden joys. We had time to be companions, playing games and drawing by candle light. We slept together and lived in time with the light-cycle, so our clocks stopped being the boss (oh, my wife was so glad). We found that candle light was calming and natural, tended us to soft voices, quiet moments and restored us on a fundamental level. We found a treasure trove of scented candles and remembered how much joy sweet smells brought into our home.

The power returned to our street mid day, nearly a week later. I rushed home from work, bleary eyed and weary-legged, and determined to set everything to rights before the wife and daughter returned home. But, talking with her on the way home I realized that I was already trying to erase something that should be held close. God had gotten us through it, and there were lessons here. We learned that it was okay to get dark while allowing the light to shine. We learned to adapt and prioritize. We learned that we had put away the candles when our daughter was too small but now she was very candle safe.

We learned that—just like the wind was always there—there are joys hidden by the routine of life, like companionship, quiet and candle light. We agreed as a family, that we would have “power down nights” every once and a while to remember these joys, honor them, and never forget that trees will fall in life, but PECO doesn’t control the greatest power of all.

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