Hurricane Irene and The Big Yellow Taxi called Life

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…

-Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

We were ready. I had bought enough bottled water to float a boat in. Every flashlight had spare batteries and our laptops, cell phones, Kindles and iPads were all fully-charged. I had filled up my car’s gas tank and had spare propane tanks for the gas grill. So on Sunday, when the rain came and the winds began to blow, I felt pretty secure, even ready for a zombie apocalypse.

Our power went out about 11 am. “That’s OK,” I thought – it’ll go back on soon. By noon, my husband was driven by curiosity to venture out and investigate. He was back in the driveway 60 seconds later.

“We’re stuck here,” he said. “There’s a tree down blocking the intersection with electrical wires hanging in the street.”

The rain slowed then stopped after an hour or two and we walked around the neighborhood to survey the damage. Our neighbors were out as well. There were  actually three trees down in our neighborhood and several more down on the main street; all had taken sections of telephone poles and power lines down with them. We could tell that it would be days before our electricity was restored.

The first night was kind of special: eating dinner by candle light then settling down with our daughter in front of her laptop watching a DVD with a glass of wine in hand. But when the laptop battery ran out of power half-way through the movie, and it was pitch dark, and it was only 8:30 pm, the novelty of our blackout was starting to wear a little thin.

Although city workers cleared the downed trees pretty quickly the next day and made it possible to drive out of the neighborhood, the power and phone service did not return until a few hours ago and over 50 hours after the lights first went off. Some of our neighbors had gone to stay with friends or relatives and a few went to hotels. They were returning now and starting the clean-up.

Here are some things I learned from this experience.

  • I am much more addicted to electronics than I thought I was. I found myself sitting down at my desk, moving the mouse around, expecting the computer to jump to life.
  • I think better in brightly lit rooms.
  • It can get awfully quiet in a house without functioning TVs, radios, computers
  • You need a flashlight to read a Kindle as well as a traditional paper book
  • It can be nice when you don’t have to listen to the drone of electronics and 24/7 media — you can hear the birds chirp.
  • You can meet new neighbors and talk to those you haven’t seen all summer because we’ve all been ensconced in our air conditioned homes.
  • After the dark clouds, driving rains and gushing winds, a blue sunny sky and a gentle breeze feels glorious.

I know that there are many out there who are still without power, have lost homes, other property and even loved ones. I am very grateful that our losses were mostly confined to food in our refrigerator. But it’s times like these when you realize how much the world has changed and just how much we depend on our electronic cocoons. Sometimes you need an event like Irene to put things back into perspective, to pause and enjoy the people and things around you, then to push the reset button and move on in that Big Yellow Taxi called life.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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