"Write about the weather."
I’m working through the Natalie Goldberg deck of writing subjects. Each card in this world-renowned author and zen teacher’s Deck contains a writing topic on one side and a short lesson on the reverse, delivered in Natalie’s honest, heartfelt urgency. “This is my wish for you:” she says. “[T]hat you take these cards, grab the topic on one side and write, write, write . . . Remember no good or bad. Just words on the page.”
Write about the weather. There are so many weather moments I could write about. The Wyoming winter where we had weeks of 58 degrees below zero (without the wind chill factor). And my first Tuscan summers in 100 degree weather with no air conditioning — how I learned to suss out the cool pockets in the olive grove, behind the buildings, and how I sometimes had to just strip naked and lie down on top of the sheets, waiting out the afternoon furnace, sometimes bathing in a luke warm bath to cool off.
But Hurricane Sandy. That was weather with a capital W. Here is an excerpt from the journal I kept. It’s from sometime during the nine days we were without power.
When Sandy clocked in for his shift and the power went out.
The word “wind” doesn’t begin to describe it. Neither does “raging wind.” Any emotional or descriptive adjective clatters to the ground, thin and inauthentic. This was on a scale that silenced all words, all mental activity. You could only drop your jaw and whisper “Holy shit.”
We did this as the trees crashed onto the power lines in our front yard. We did this as the house literally moaned and wailed. We did this all night.
It’s Tuesday morning, and we’re getting our bearings, surveying damage, talking to neighbors, trying to piece together what had happened to friends further away. The picture above is our front yard.
Fortunately, aside from what you see in the photo, we came out relatively unscathed. But we’ve been two days without phones and power, and it’s going to be at least another five, ten, maybe fifteen. For a while, texting was possible. Now that’s gone too.
Right now it’s 2am on Wednesday morning and, without electricity buzzing through all the power lines down my street, the whole world is both more quiet and more alive. It’s come into more of its original skin. I can feel its heart beating under my feet. I feel part of it. I feel grateful.
This sound, this quiet is more appreciable right now, in the middle of the night. During the day and the evening, the neighbors’ generators drone loud and proud. There are times when I envy them. They can take hot showers. They are warm at night. They get internet, HBO, the news. They can open their fridge doors and look in absentmindedly for however long they want. They can post photos of upturned trees to their Facebook pages, let people know what happened to them, reassure their friends and family on the phone. They can go to bed whenever they usually go to bed.
But they’re missing out, too. Big time.
Here are some of the things I found, during my time without electricity.
MINDFULLY WASHING THE DISHES I thought hot water was indispensible to good cleaning, but it’s not. I did the previous night’s dishes, but did them slowly. I used to just run hot water, and rinse everything before throwing it into the dishwasher. This time I filled a bin with cold water and a little dishwashing liquid. Slowly, mindfully I experienced each spoon, each cup, watching my reactions, my aversions, my ‘needs’ rise up and pass away as the dishes moved through my hands into the dish rack.
MINDFULLY CLEANING THE FLOORS Washing floors used to be a hurried, perfectionistic event. But yesterday, I took my time. Got down on my hands and knees and worked carefully. Where I used to attack a spot with determined zeal, I just worked gently, slowly, looking at the spot, feeling the rag in my hands, the floor under my knees, hearing the sound of my scrubbing. It was an altogether different experience, so joyful, so without time constraints or pride.
MINDFULLY WATCHING MY EGO Ha, well, not completely without pride.
As I worked, I noticed, 1) my hopes that this work would be great, and 2) that this great work would be praised. Scrubbing, I watched myself dream up ways of embedding the information conversationally, so it wouldn’t look like I was looking for praise. Like, “Oh by the way, while I was doing the floors, Carey dropped by. Her neighbor lost their house in Long Beach…” –thereby making the floors comment very small, within a much larger story — but getting it in there, just the same. I smiled. Nice try.
I made a solid commitment not to mention anything about doing any of this work. (But I’m mentioning it to all of you reading, so there goes that!) In any case, I kept pointing myself back into the present moment, experiencing it for its own sake, every moment, one after the other.
FOLLOWING DARKNESS INTO SLEEP At around 5:30pm, it’s already growing dark. Elena and I walk the dogs, then light a fire once we’re home again. We read a little bit. Have some more soup. At around 6:45 (six forty-five!), I was so sleepy. It felt like ten o’clock. What is that? But then I got it.
My animal self was alive, nudging me toward my natural instincts, “It’s nature’s night, not man’s night. Time to hole up and sleep.” Without the man-made lights, the body takes its cue from a much larger entity. The sky. The moon. The earth. Go to sleep. And so I do. Over and over during these days.
And when the light comes shining thought the window in the morning, my hello to the day is clean and clear, in a way I’ve never experienced before..
Looking back on the nine days of No Power during Hurricane Sandy, the thing I remember most fondly is the darkness. How truly thick it was without street lights. How the black of it worked as a wonderful sedative, a calming agent. And…how it drew me outside sometimes so I could see the stars without any interference. A holy experience.
These were the many blessings of having survived Hurricane Sandy. May we all find some beauty and worth in the tragedies that befall us. And may our bones continue to strengthen as we move through troubled times.