Sunday, October 3, 2010

Present Tense

"Feh," I said, sitting in my chair as the television faded out, wondering where I could find a flashlight. The remnants of tropical storm Nicole sucker-punched the Northeast and knocked out our electricity. After a bit of fumbling, Husband and I found and lit candles, and did the things you do when you don't know how long the juice will be out (like, calling half the people in the area on our cells to ask if they have power, and, for some reason, trying to flip light switches when entering a room.) Then I settled in to savor my secret love of reading by candlelight. I know I have the ability do this any time I desire, but it's more special knowing that I can't turn the lights on even if I wanted to. No e-mail, no television, no Facebook, no work. Nothing but twin tapers and The Heretic's Daughter, a historical novel about the Salem witch trials that I'd been looking forward to stepping into since I rescued it from Barnes & Noble's remainder table.

Husband, however, did not approach the prospect of going Luddite with the same enthusiasm as I. He turned into a great grumbling ball of worry. "There you go," he said, with a huge groan. "Forget about going to sleep tonight. I'll be up all night making sure the basement doesn't flood."

Before you start thinking I married Moses, a little background-we have a generator, and a house in the woods, where blackouts are common in bad weather. Thanks also to our wet basement (actually a dirt-and-rock-floored crawlspace), we have a sump pump. Without this, the basement floods and the water could damage our appliances: two furnaces (one for upstairs, one for downstairs) and the hot water heater. The set-up is not my choice; this architectural disaster came with the house, and we haven't gotten around to doing anything about it, because it would involve a backhoe and a boatload of cash, the former we haven't been able to borrow and the latter we've never had.

So we deal with what is. Or at least I did. Instead of pulling up a chair next to me, Husband vibrated with worry. Nothing I said could change his attitude, but for some reason I tried.

"You don't even know if the basement's going to flood," I said. "The power could come back on in few minutes. And besides, it's not even raining." True. During the storm-for at least the part of it where we didn't have power-we only experienced high winds and a bit of a sprinkle from time to time.

"We're all gonna die," he said.

No. He didn't actually say this.

But it often seems that way, when we experience any kind of crisis. It's as if, when we slipped the rings on each other's fingers, we divided up the world. I would handle what is, and he would handle what might be.

And when the lights go out, or the car won't start, I'll say to myself, "Okay. Crap happens. If there's nothing I can do at the moment to fix this, what can I do instead?"

He'll say, "We're all gonna die." Or words to that effect.

I never saw the sense in worrying about things I have absolutely no control over. It's a waste of energy, and, as I've been practicing mindfulness in the last few years, it's a waste of the moment. Living in the future or fretting about what the future holds negates anything good that could be happening in the present. When I find myself lost in a flurry of negative outcomes, I remind myself to "be here now." And then I can feel the breeze blowing against my skin or the beauty of the trees turning colors or, like that night, the sacred silence of a world without the banging, hissing, whirring, and clicking of our infrastructures.

So I let him be. He got into bed with his iPod and a crossword puzzle, came downstairs occasionally to fume and fret, while I stayed on the first floor enjoying the candle light and my novel. I even went out onto the back porch to feel the gusts lift my hair and cool my skin. I sat in my favorite outdoor lounge chair, tipped it all the way back, and watched in the dim evening light as the wind chased the clouds across the sky. I imagined living in a simpler time, an earlier time, when lighting tapers at sunset was a normal affair and not an emergency procedure.

When the electricity came back on, along with the lights and appliances with their clicks, buzzes and groans, I was slightly disappointed. But from upstairs, I heard Husband say, "Thank God." Then his computer and his television whirred into life, blinking their electric eyes.

The outage lasted three hours. Three hours that I spent reveling in the moment. Three hours that he will never get back. I believe I made the better bargain.

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