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A loss of power — literally
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A loss of power — literally

What Irene taught me about miracles, mighty oaks, and indoor plumbing

When Hurricane Irene barreled into New Jersey with all her awesome power, she left me with no power, or running water.

For seven days.

It took God only six days to create the world, but it took JCP&L a full week to get the lights back on.

Forget the lights, in any case. Who cares about the lights? (And who cares about cable TV? For goodness sake!)

What I’m talking about is no drinking water, no showering, and no toileting. We have a well, which requires a well pump to work, which requires power to work. And, oh, how we take for granted that clear stream that magically flows out of our faucets.

Do we ever stop to appreciate this miracle of modern living? Or to wonder what would happen if it stopped?

We were lucky not to have any flooding in our home, because we live on a hill, or downed trees, which surprised us, because we live in the woods. We were especially worried about the 200-year-old oak tree that majestically guards our front yard. Every fall, it feeds dozens of animals with thousands of acorns.

But despite these real blessings, life under Third World conditions was far from serene. For a week, my husband and I showered in gyms, brushed our teeth with bottled water, and ate canned food for dinner. Every night, we sat around a battery-powered lamp and stared at each other. We’d never spent so much time discussing how to keep the tanks of our toilets filled to the water line.

I came to despise the rumble of generators. So much louder than mowers or leaf-blowers, we could hear them up and down our country road. Every evening, when I came home from work, their thunderous clatter meant there was still no power. It also seemed to create a post-energy society of haves and have-nots; a kind of Mad Max world of snapped powerlines and envious neighbors.

By Day 5, I was cracking. It wasn’t so much the physical hardship as the emotional toll. The feelings of abandonment; of being forgotten, helpless, alone. People around me talked of Labor Day plans for weekend barbecues. I wondered where I’d be showering.

Day 5 was also the day the local newspaper published a front-page story about the 12 New Jerseyans who died during Hurricane Irene. I gazed at our mighty oak that day and couldn’t help but wonder: Who shall live and who shall die.

It gave me a good dose of perspective. As difficult as it was, whatever I endured would be temporary. Those who lost loved ones would suffer permanent losses.

Renewal is a perennial theme of the High Holy Days, and it has almost become a cliché to remember what’s important during times of crisis.

But I can tell you that when I opened our faucet for the first time in seven days, and saw the magic water surge into the sink, I felt that we do live in an age of miracles, if only we’d stop to notice them.

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