Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tired? Just go back 100 years...

It's been a bit crazy at work lately, things have been getting very busy and time consuming. The weekend went fairly well so far, we took the kid out to a playground with my parents and spent the day together. This morning was a lot of overdue lawn work. About four hours ago, the kid went down for her nap and my wife and I were just settling in for what promised to be a quiet afternoon, talking about what movie we'd like to watch.

It suddenly got a lot more quiet than we had expected.

A freak thunderstorm blew into the area with no warning, spraying rain and covering the sky with dark, ominous gray clouds. The soaked the ground with water, but then left as quickly as it came. It only lingered for a half an hour, but as it left it took our electricity with it.

It's been a long time since we lost the power, thank Heaven. Since moving into our house about five years ago, the local power supply has been remarkably robust, in spite of much worse thunderstorms in the past. This time, however, we lost our electricity after a few disturbing flickers that brought the lights up and down.

My wife and I were both surprised at the event, and immediately did the usual drill in case it was a long outage. We retrieved our candles, planned for a cold dinner, and thought forward to the next day. After taking twenty minutes to clean the living room (children are messy creatures ;) we then found ourselves wondering what to do.

There was no Internet, no TV. We couldn't run the dish washer, neither the clothes washer nor dryer. The air-conditioner was silent, as were the computers and all the appliances.

The depth of the silence was astounding.

We opened the windows, as the house was getting stuffy and the storm had passed. The cool air from outside breezed in, flushing away the stuffy air that had been stiffening ever since the central conditioner died with the rest of the house. The outside was as quiet as the inside. Gone were the humming noises of our neighbor's central air units, gone was the noise of televisions, radios, and even lawn mowers.

The only noise was the rustle of the wind in the trees, or the occasional twitter of a bird, the buzz of an insect.

At first, the quiet was slightly annoying. We both had things we wanted to do, chores to accomplish and entertaining electronics we wanted to relax through. My wife took to the quiet much more quickly than I did, having grown up in a quiet house. She simply picked up a book and started reading. For me, however, I had grown up in a house that was always abuzz with the hum of circuitry and the rush of air from a central unit.

Following Linda's lead, I went down to the basement to find a book to amuse me. For many years now, I've been trying to find time to read Huck Finn. So, I picked up a book I'd bought years ago with four of Mark Twain's novels.

Sitting down, I opened the plain book and quietly read the pages. Many, many years have passed since I read a book that was not a technical manual or a college text book. As I read the ink-laden pages of the tome, memories of my teen age years came back to me, when I had time to read books for leisure. The added silence of the power outage only enhanced the experience.

Five chapters and an hour later, Linda and I took to talking, giving our eyes a break from the reading. It was all the more relaxing, just chatting idly about matters of the day in our lives. Soon after that, we took to playing dominoes while listening to quiet tunes pouring out of the speaker of a hand-crank radio. The air was cool and crisp after the storm, and we continued our chat, the room filled with the music, the sound of our voices, and our laughter.

Gone was the world of electronic beeps and whirs, the emails, the web pages, the instant news, instant chat, instant everything. Life was slow again, and peaceful. I felt a calm overtake me that I had not experienced in years, perhaps even ever before. All that we had before us was each other and the gentle sounds of the radio.

After a good hour of this pleasant time, the entire house came to life as the power came back on, appliances whirring once more and computers beeping as they sprang to life. The central air rushed out of the duct at our feet, and suddenly the radio seemed small and insignificant in the face of so many other electronic components of our modern home.

We finished our last domino game and went back to our typical day. Perhaps we were just a bit more relaxed than before the power so graciously left us for the time.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl as we sat in the silence, reading and enjoying each other's company. The experience was simply unparalleled in my busy life of late, so laden with the rush of work, childcare, and keeping up with family and friends.

Life truly has become too fast paced of late, I think. Not much can be done to stop it, we can't turn back the clock. However, I think we could all benefit by unplugging now and again, forcibly ripping the plugs and antennas out of our digital days to sit in the same peace and quiet as our grandparents must have enjoyed decades ago when the only media around was a record player or the radio. Perhaps we are more efficient and productive than they were, but are we happier?

There's much to be said for disconnecting, now and again.

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