Saturday, November 10, 2012

What a Light Bulb and a Stomach Have in Common

You know how, during a thunderstorm, you feel incredibly annoyed when the power goes out? Great, now I can't watch the rest of this movie. Seriously, you'd think power companies would be able to prevent this sort of thing. Guess I'll go find the flashlight. Now turn the thunderstorm into a hurricane and that one night into one week.

Losing power for one night makes you recognize how much we take electricity for granted: without it, there's no reading after dark, no television, no internet. Losing power for a week makes you realize how many aspects of your life rely on this resource (and how little attention you ever paid to this dependence): no refrigeration, no freezers, no street lights, no heat or air-conditioning. No credit cards. No cell phones.

Believe it or not, I actually thought I was prepared to lose power during Hurricane Sandy. (Well, at least mentally prepared.) Even without rain or flooding, we all knew that the wind would be brutal and would probably knock down a power line or two. Therefore, although I was a little nervous about only having two candles and a flashlight, I was feeling rather gracious during those first few days, especially as I observed the amount of destruction and devastation around me. Okay, we haven't gotten power back yet, but it's only been two days. They must be working on it, and they probably have a lot of apartments to restore. At least my apartment didn't get flooded. I should be grateful enough for that. They'll get the power back on soon enough. Plus--hey--this is sort of like camping, right? An adventure!

After five days of "adventure," however, all I really wanted to do was watch a movie. That, and take off my winter hat and coat. No electricity meant no heat, and it also meant that around 4:30pm, it was time to start planning where we could go to bide the time until we had to return to our pitch-black apartment and force ourselves to sleep. Luckily, a neighbor gave us some candles, so at least we could make our way around the apartment at night without any catastrophes.

Finally, after a full week of darkness, cold, and, of course, no internet, I jetted away on a work trip to California. Finally I'll have good food, a warm room to sleep in, and unlimited access to do all of those things on the internet I've been meaning to do. The next morning, however, I awoke to a new, brutal reminder of yet another aspect of life most of us take for granted: our health. At first I just thought I had eaten too much at dinner the night before. As the hour wore on, however, I realized that mere digestion was not the issue. Something was seriously wrong in there.

I had been sent to California to work at a scientific conference, and I was one of only two people who were responsible for setting up our company's booth in the exhibits hall of this conference. Work had paid to fly me here, and my coworker was depending on me to be there to help. That sense of indebtedness, combined with my Protestant work ethic and Catholic-school-instilled guilt, motivated me to get up off of the cold tile bathroom floor, pull on some clothes, and wobble out to the street below.

I had only gone one block when I realized that if  I didn't sit down, something awful would happen. I immediately sank to the curb and leaned heavily over my thighs. What was wrong with me? The traffic light changed twice before I got myself back up and trudged on. I made it across the street before the wave of naseau hit me. I could see a garbage can, but in someone's moment of genius, they had welded on a cover that hovered three inches over the opening. No way would I get my head in there. That left me, sitting on the edge of a flower planter, puking my guts out beside the garbage can.

This story doesn't really have an ending, although if you really want to know, power was restored to my apartment after two weeks, and I am back to eating solid foods again. The point is this: there is an awful lot in our privileged lives that we never recognize until it is taken away. At that point, we can either be grateful we had it in the first place (and will likely have it again), or we can moan, groan, and wallow in our misery. Some moaning and groaning is inevitable, but I hope that the next time something I take for granted is taken away, I can feel even more gratitude when it is returned.

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