Sitting in the Dark

I got an email from an old friend late last week. I thought you might enjoy reading his tale.

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Dear Wade,

How’s it going?

You’re never gonna believe what happened to us this past week. We had one of the worst ice storms in the history of the world hit us squarely between the eyes. Thousands of households all over the state lost power. Ours too.

We were actually a bit shocked when the lights went out on us. We were sitting at the table having dinner. They told us to expect it. Still, it came as a surprise. We had heard that other people were losing their power, but we never thought it would happen to us.

We’re not the kind of people that bad things usually happen to. We’ve always managed to avoid most minor and major inconveniences. We’ve always believed that we have a special relationship with God. Our preacher calls it a covenant, but we like to think of it as more of an understanding. We keep God’s commandments and God keeps us out of trouble. We thought we had been doing enough. We had been saying our prayers and putting our money in the plate. We were nice to almost all of our neighbors and we put up our Christmas lights every year, just after Thanksgiving and not a day before, just like the Bible says to do.

We had assumed that the other people who had lost their power did so because they had done something wrong. Maybe God was mad at them because they’d been skipping church. Or maybe they’d just been foolish. Installed cheap wiring in their house or chosen to live in a bad part of town or in a remote area where they seem to lose power every time a thunderstorm blows across the sky.

It gives our family comfort to be able to figure out why bad things are happening to other people. It’s one of our favorite ways of passing the time over dinner.

But there we were, sitting in the dark just like the rest. We had to rethink our theology. We also had to light a few candles and turn on the gas fireplace to keep the main living room warm.
After that we decided to play our favorite game. We call it the blame game. It’s based on the premise that you can always find someone to blame if you look hard enough.

So why were we in the dark?

Maybe it’s the home builder’s fault. Shouldn’t he have installed a back up system for all the critical functions of our house just like NASA does with the space shuttle?

Maybe the weatherman is to blame. He didn’t give us much of a warning did he?

We managed to pin some of the blame on the president. He always gets some of the blame no matter what happens. If the buck stops at his desk, then so must the power cord.

We passed out a lot of blame that night. We blamed the ice, the tree, the wind, the arctic air, global warming, the electric company, Ben Franklin, and yes, I must confess, we blamed God for abandoning us in our darkest hour.

We almost blamed ourselves, but got distracted by the sound of a frozen tree firing off like a gun as its limbs blew out in all directions. None of it landed on our house. But my neighbor wasn’t so lucky. It was our tree that landed on his house. I’ll come back to that later.

Blaming others made us feel a little better. So we decided to make the best of it. This isn’t going to be so bad, we told ourselves. It might even be fun.

It was a chance to go back to simple living like the preacher had been talking about recently. We’d go unplugged for a while and see how well we liked living off of the grid. We don’t need power, we said, we’ve got each other.

We were glad to have more time together as a family. We’d eat marshmallows toasted over a natural gas fire. No school, no official bedtime, no alarm clocks, we’d all sleep together in the same room. We’d make a big pot of beans and cook some skillet cornbread on the stove the next day. We started feeling like we were pioneers living on the prairie, in a little house, in the middle of nowhere.

The first night was charming. We played games and told stories by candlelight. The kids thought it was the greatest adventure of their young lives: camping out in the house, everyone gets their own flashlight. They played hide and seek in the dark deep into the night.

I decided the next day to get to know the neighbors a little better. It would be like old time community. We’d help each other out. Share our resources. Take care of each other. No one would be in need. It sounded sort of biblical.

Well, we gave all of that our best shot and it was a fine way to live for a day or two. Then it all started unravel.

We caught each other cheating at board games. We got sick of marshmallows. We cussed the superintendent for canceling school again. We no longer wanted to sleep in the same house together, much less the same room.

The kids declared war on each other. Hide and seek became search and destroy. Several times I had to remind my wife of the downside of letting the kids kill each other. By the fourth night of darkness all she could see was upside. “Let the herd thin itself out,” she kept muttering to herself.

We turned off the fireplace. We didn’t need it. Our seething anger towards each other kept the house plenty warm.

And the neighbors, they stopped being neighborly, and so did we. The guy next door demanded that I come and get my tree off of his house. I was actually going to do that very thing, but his rudeness turned me off of it and instead I told him that as soon has he started picking up his dog’s poop off my yard, I’d come over and get my tree.

Communal support grew into creeping suspicion, which eventually gave way to criminal behavior.

I got caught sneaking around another neighbor’s backyard trying to plug 200 ft of extension cord into his generator. I just wanted enough power to run a few small appliances, that’s all.

We were amazed at how much we’d taken electricity for granted. One night I decided I wanted some popcorn. I already had the bag in the microwave and was pushing numbers before I caught myself.

My wife kept telling me to shave. I kept telling her that my razor needed a charge.
I needed my coffee every morning, but I couldn’t figure out a way to grind the beans. I finally tried chewing them up and spitting them into the filter, only to have my wife wonder when I had converted our coffee maker to solar power.

It turns out it’s not a good idea to feast on beans and marshmallows when there’s not a working exhaust fan anywhere in the house. The only difference between that experience and carbon monoxide poisoning is that with carbon monoxide you can’t smell death coming for you.

It was rough.

We did have a little battery powered radio and every night we’d listen to it and every night we heard promises about how help was on the way.

“Hang in there,” that disembodied voice would say, “The darkness won’t last much longer.”

The next day we’d hear the same message. “Please be patient, better days are coming, power will be restored, your house will be warm, your lights will shine once again.”

Every morning we’d wake up thinking that this would be the day when the lights would come back on. Later that night, we’d blow out the candles and wonder how much more we could take.

What made it even worse is that folks in nearby neighborhoods started getting their power back before us. We could see the glow of their lights from our house.

“How did they get their power back so soon?” we asked each other, “Who do they know? Who did they bribe?”

Then–I kid you not–some of those people in those freshly lit houses actually had the nerve to fire up their Christmas lights! We’re sitting over here in the dark and they’ve got Santa and his reindeer landing on their house in shades of red, green, blue and white.

One family had a well-lit sign on their roof that said “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all men.” We felt like they were rubbing our noses in holiday cheer. So we called down curses on their household. We wanted the righteous hammer of God to fall on them and take away their electricity. They didn’t deserve it. We wanted them to be just as miserable as we were.

I even thought about helping God’s hammer hit its mark by sneaking over there and busting up their transformer all over again. Be the answer to your own prayer. That’s what the preacher is always saying.

The worst part of this whole deal was that getting our power restored was taken out of my hands completely. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I like being in control of my own destiny. I like to take charge of a situation. I was powerless to do anything about our lack of power.

During the day, I’d walk around the outside of the house looking for something to fix. I wanted to be the solution to a problem. I wanted there to be something I could do to move things along. I couldn’t stand waiting for someone else to us out of trouble. I wanted to do it myself.

But there was nothing I could do. It had to be done for us. We were totally dependent on someone else for our “salvation.” I know salvation is a heavy word, especially for you preachers, but that’s exactly what it felt like we were waiting for.

We were tired, angry, and scared. The darkness was starting to mess with our heads. We heard strange sounds in the middle of the night and woke up seeing things that weren’t really there. We were treating each other terribly. We didn’t trust our neighbors. God no longer seemed real to us.

So yeah, after awhile we understood that we were waiting for more than just power, for more than just our lights to be turned on again.

We were waiting for something we’d lost and couldn’t get back by ourselves. We were waiting for something that we’’d taken for granted, that we didn’t even know we’d miss until it was gone.

We were waiting for something valuable to be restored. We recognized its value because its absence had brought about a change in us, and not for the better.

It its absence, we became a different kind of people, a different kind of family. We forgot how to be neighbors. We could no longer see what was so plainly in front of us.

We did not like who we had become while living in the dark. We needed to be saved.

So we waited for power, for light, for warmth. And we waited for a second chance, a fresh start, a new day.

Yesterday the power was restored to our home. Our lights came back on just as suddenly as they went out. Our home is warm and bright once again. Life is returning to normal.

Yet this darkness remains. And it still feels like we’re still waiting on something or maybe someone. I guess we’re waiting for a different kind of power to cut through the dark and light up the world once and for all.

Know what I mean?

Your friend,

Adam

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