Hurricane Isabel : My Unstrung Adventure
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Those who know me well know just how much I like being in the spotlight. And as someone who has been in the spotlight twice a day for almost the past week, you would think I would be giddy with all the attention. But before you get excited for me, I am not referring to stage lights and clamoring fans. I am not talking about fame or autographs or billboards plastering my face across town. Hate to disappoint you, but I am talking about the battery-powered kind of spotlight that you might find at a do-it-yourself hardware store.
Guessed yet? Heres a hint: What if I told you that my life has literally flashed before me?
OK. Heres an even bigger hint: Hurricane Isabel.
Flashlights and candles have become my constant companions while enduring this East Coast calamity. As one who is still awaiting consistent power on at home, I have a new respect for emergency crews that risk life and limb to light up my city. Remember how proud we were as a nation of our police force and firefighters and clean-up crews and disaster relief workers in the wake of September 11? That's the way I feel about Dominion Virginia Power every time I see a truck out on the road fixing or reworking a power line. My hats off to you, mates!
I am so ready to get plugged back into life once again. The unplugged version of life sure hasn't worked in my favor, what with bad-hair days, cold showers, baked beans straight from the can, and cereal with powdered milk. I will save the "unplugged" notion for hip and famous recording artists.
I Feel the State Park Calling Again
Lately, I have been reminiscing about the summer I worked at Yosemite National Park. There are definite comparisons between that time in my life and life in the here and now. In Yosemite (which, for those of you who don't know, is in California, not Montana -- that's Yellowstone, where Old Faithful resides) I also slept without electricity running. The difference was, I didn't have a heater to keep me warm on those chilly May nights. Now, I don't have air conditioning to keep my breathless existence at bay. OK. I survived that for three months in Yosemite. I think I can survive breezeless nights for up to two weeks here. In Yosemite, I almost never cooked my meals. Instead, I ate out, much like I have done lately. And in Yosemite, I woke up every day to squawking Stellar Jays with flashlight in hand to hike down to the bathhouse with the hopes of getting a hot shower. Today, I hike five paces to get to the bathroom with flashlight in hand, once again hoping that I will get a hot shower. Wow! This is a lot like camping, huh? Complete with sterno stoves and waterproof matches.
What's That Smell, Watson?
I had to laugh the other day. I was bemoaning my woes to a friend at church. I told her I had just missed trash day and was trying to resolve what to do with the very spoiled food in my refrigerator. Frankly, I was scared to open the door on what would likely be a well-developed science fair project. My friend told me, "Oh, you can bring your trash over to my place. Trash pick-up is tomorrow."
Grateful, I faithfully loaded my trunk up with bag after bad of double and triple-ply garbage bags. The whole scenario struck me as funny. What must the neighbors think? I felt like I was in the middle of a Jeff Foxworthy "you know that you are a redneck if..." moment. I felt like painting a Confederate flag on the hood of my car, screaming Yahoo!, and heading out to use my friend's curb as the local dump. BYOT: Bring Your Own Trash!
It's amazing how the little things we take for granted suddenly become numero uno when emergencies strike. Just ask the neighbors or anyone else you don't know but feel the need to commiserate with in the grocery stores. They all talk the same lingo as I do
"Hey, is your power back on?"
(Excitedly) "No, but I did see a power truck on my street this morning, so we will likely get it back on today."
(Relieved) "Yeah, I finally got mine on today."
"That explains the cartload of food you are buying!" (Drool. Drool.)
"Are the lines at (fast-food restaurant name here) long today? Yesterday they were out the door."
"I know! I tried dining-in at a restaurant the other day, and I had to wait 45 minutes to even get seated. It was crazy."
"I need to go get gasoline. Who has gas right now?
"Which kind are you talking about -- gasoline for your car or propane for your gas grill so you can still cook at home despite the power outages?"
(Long, thoughtful pause) "Both!"
"Did you here about the 7:00 p.m. curfew in Chesapeake? Outrageous!"
"Curfew? What curfew?"
The Search for the Elusive Box
Making your neighbors jealous is easy these days. Just reveal that you ate at a restaurant that had COLD A/C and HOT FOOD shortly after the storm passed through. Or better yet, whip out your pocket TV. Speaking of battery operated television sets, after feeling extremely deprived and powerless (excuse the pun), I surfed the Net for the best available that I could find. I ran over to Best Buy with the hopes of finally purchasing the smallest TV known to man for a likely exorbitant price. I hunted the aisles, passing by the large entertainment centers and 32-inchers, which, frankly were completely irrelevant, and found the lowly box. Most days, I would have walked right by the tiny toy. As a member of the "more-is-better" philosophy that makes me American, I would normally have been drawn to the sets with more bells and whistles. But this day I was more interested in downsizing. Looking at the 2.3-inch screen of the display model, I debated whether it was worth the trouble, but then the internal monologue started up again. You could watch TV tonight! Besides, you will need some way to keep informed about future hurricanes if another emergency hits. After rationalizing for a few minutes, I went to grab the first employee I could find because I didn't see one boxed up for sale.
"Hi. Do you have any more pocket TVs like that Casio you have displayed?" I held my breath.
"I'm sorry. We sold-out the other day. But there will be a shipment in tomorrow."
"What time do you open?" I asked, feeling a restlessness come over me.
"Tomorrow at 10 a.m."
I made a mental note to return to Best Buy later.
Thinking I was being completely clever, I did, in fact, zoom over to Best Buy and several other department stores to find a comparable TV the next day. All sold-out. That goes for some other popular items that have likewise been scarce lately -- non-electric can openers, D-size batteries, water, steaks for the grill, and car chargers for cell phones. My guess is weather radios are also likely to be extinct in the next couple of days if they haven't already been wiped out.
I can sympathize with what folks in bread lines in the former Soviet Union must have gone through on a daily basis. Standing in long lines and hoping for the right items at the right price has been much of what we have become accustomed to lately, although, admittedly, we aren't in dire need as they were. In fact, the suffering we have endured is nothing like what the starving and the thirsty experience every day in many third-world countries.
Price gouging has also been a problem. I can think of two examples. One, the price of a generator has been shockingly inflated. The same model that would sell for $400 suddenly skyrocketed to nearly $700. And they were flying off the shelves last time I checked. Second, the price of a shower makes my blood boil. I thought showers were free. Silly me. I heard that some local gym is charging $2 for its fitness center members and more for non-members to get a hot shower right now. Hopefully, that is just a rumor. If this really is true, it seems extreme and unfair. As my mother would say, "It's daylight robbery!" Shouldn't we be trying to help those who have suffered financial losses through this storm by showing generosity?
The Power of a Generous Spirit
Thankfully, I have seen a willing spirit in my community. My friends have kindly had me over for meals and/or to take a shower or to stay the night. I have heard countless tales of community cookouts and neighbors checking up on those less fortunate. I am especially grateful for my recently married friend Jane and her husband, Stan, for offering to not only let me stay during the worst part of the storm, but to cook for me and offer me fresh towels and a comfy bed. And at that time, she was only a week away from giving birth! Now, that is being a good Samaritan, like the Bible tells us in. That is what Christianity is all about.
I am also incredibly proud of my home church, Kempsville Presbyterian Church, for reaching out to storm victims. With generators buzzing in place of normal electrical power, we celebrated God in the great outdoors the Sunday after the storm hit. We sang, we prayed, and we listened to pastor Nate Atwood amplify the benefit of loving others in a practical way. Then, we were charged to help victims of Hurricane Isabel by sawing tree limbs, disposing of spoiled food and washing out refrigerators, and making medications, food, and water available to those who need it.
This is what loving your neighbor is all about, I thought. This is the point to this whole storm. This is God making good out of what Satan deemed for our worst. As my pastor said Sunday, we have been "ambushed" by God's incredible mercy.
Beyond the funny tales and the desperate and irritating moments that I have shared, I can conclude that this trying time has taught me a lot about myself and about my God and about what the body of Christ should look like. I know now that I still need a merciful Savior and a kindhearted neighbor to help me in a tangible way. I am beginning to understand what it means to "count it all joy" when going through trials of many kinds. I know the importance of having a sure plan for tomorrow's storms, whatever they may be. And I have a new appreciation for learning how to live without...
Now, if only I could just get my power back soon. Where exactly did Operation Blessing and the Salvation Army say they were setting up free meals?I wonder if Radio Shack would have a portable television setMaybe, I should just sleep here at work.
I guess I have a lot more to learn, huh, Lord? Thank you, Savior, for being patient with me. May I be generous and joyful wherever I find myself.
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