Tuesday, September 6, 2011

STOP: Count your blessings

Hurricane Irene had wreaked havoc upon the Quiet Corner of Connecticut where we live.
Gabbi and I were on a reconnaissance mission to our tiny hamlet when the unusual STOP sign message made us pause. Someone had stenciled "Count your blessings" in white under the word STOP. We smiled and sent up a quick "deo gratias", while continuing our important objective; to find potable water to bolster our diminishing supply. It had been two days since Hurricane Irene, and the power outage was fast morphing into the greatest challenge of our life as a family. Yet no one was hurt, our home was not damaged or in danger, and we were finding strengths within ourselves as the challenges mounted. And despite feeling grubby, we were having the adventure of our lives.
The initial hours of the hurricane were the easiest by far of the week which followed.Trees swayed in the rainy wind, and a few branches flew down. Naturally the power was out. but nothing disastrous had happened, and the girls and I felt oddly disappointed as we surveyed minor damage on our first walk around the neighborhood.
The big hurricane for which we had made extra trips to the store, secured the patio table, and filled containers of water, was a bust. Or so we thought.
The next day, we were dismayed to discover that most roads to our home were blocked by downed trees and alarming configurations of dead electric cable strewn across homes and roadways. All the local towns were without power, even the mighty Walmart was closed. The severity of the storm began to reveal itself to us, but the girls chipped in merrily fetching water from the stream across the street. singing the water fetching song from "The Jungle Book".
We rediscovered how to use the gas range and refrigerator in the camper, set up a field kitchen and dish washing station. There were three types of water we decided; Level One, bottled water for drinking only. Level Two for washing people and dishes, which after use, became Level Three;toilet flushing water. We learned to think about our every move, no one wasted water, food or effort, as the tasks were were engaged in cause sore shoulder muscles at night. We recovered the lost joys of board games, learned gin rummy, and discovered candlelit sponge bathing, Bella's compositions on the piano began to fill the evening stillness. I considered dusting off my violin.
After two days of relative isolation, our neighbors began to reach out. We swapped news on when the tree removal trucks would arrive and restore power, advice on where to find gas, news that the showers at the middle school were being offered to residents, and clean water was offered. We offered our fresh tomatoes, which were in full swing, in return, and took advantage of free water, showers, and any news we could get.

There is a great lack of humility in our do-it-yourself culture.  When the hurricane and the week-long delay in the return of electric power forced us to seek help, we were humbled to find it so readily available. We had tears of gratitude spring to our eyes at the sight of the soldiers of the National Guard dropping off bottled water and military meals at the Town Hall, and our admiration for our soldiers grew as we ate some of their hearty meals, imagining soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan eating the same beef stew and oatmeal cookies we ate, making their orange drink in their canteens. We were a little reluctant to use the showers in the school, yet met friendly smiles and helpful neighbors who were becoming friends. We got to know six new households over that week, and celebrated the restoration of power with a block party. After moving to CT three years ago from Long Island, outrunning Hurricane Hannah as it followed us up the coast, we finally could say we felt like integral parts of the community.
I knew from experience that days without TV would work wonders on the girls, and when we found time for the nightly rosary the TV had squeezed out, and began to giggle over the day's mishaps, we knew a joy that electronic gadgets had robbed us of. We attended daily Mass, made designs with mosaic blocks, and spent time planning our homeschooling year. We fixed the chicken coop in time for our new chicks to become egg laying hens, and canned tomato sauce for winter. We were becoming even more of a team!
So, when my husband, who was tending to internet customers out of power, arrived home on Friday, he was impressed that we were so independent. We secretly prayed that God would not let our power be restored just yet, we wanted to share our adventure with Dad for at least 24 hours more. He showed us that we had an extra well which we could have accessed by lowering buckets the old fashioned way,  and we enjoyed my Minestrone soup dinner al fresco, proud of our accomplishments.
The next day found us seeking the internet at the library and buying groceries optimistically hoping that the food wouldn't spoil. Later that evening, the power was restored. We cheered the workers from New Hampshire as they passed our home, and resumed normal life, not without wistfulness about the strange beauty of the week where we were off the grid but far from powerless.

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