The power went down in my neighborhood on Thursday afternoon, shortly after Hurricane Michael hit its apogee in the Triad and before the creeks began to overflow.
The teenagers, home from school, were gobsmacked. No electricity. No wifi signal. Sure, their devices were charged enough for the next few hours, but what then? What then?
And it’s not like their various screens were doing them any good. Without access to the great neural cloud, they couldn’t so much as post an Insta. A phone that only makes calls and sends texts is practically useless. It might as well be a pager.
After prowling around like cats locked in a room, they flopped on the couch, despondent in surrender as the storm raged outside.
It’s good to feel powerless once in a while, to remember that those things upon which we increasingly rely are not permanent fixtures, and certainly not guaranteed.
So like everyone else all over town, we showered at the gym for a couple days, and we ate at restaurants, charging our devices piecemeal as we moved around. The coffeeshops and restaurants that remained open boomed over the weekend, and it became one of those opportunities for us to encounter one another, bond in our suffering, however trivial, perhaps experience some true empathy for our neighbors across the city.
By Saturday night we had all gotten to know each other just a little bit better, and we cleaned out our refrigerators.
At our house Friday night, the teen squad gathered by candlelight for a sleepover and a marathon session of old-school Monopoly — dice, cards, little plastic houses and hotels, the whole deal. Some of them left homes with perfectly functioning electrical systems to do this. The oldest came home from school for the weekend, and sat strumming his old acoustic guitar. Our youngest emerged from her bedroom to be a part of this celebration of powerlessness.
They thought it was hilarious, though they kept their devices within eyesight as their batteries dwindled down.
By the time the power chirped back to life on Saturday afternoon, the stragglers of the teen squad, too, emerged from their analog states; they raced to recharge their devices and get the PlayStation started.
Because as an experiment powerlessness can be useful. But it’s tough to live that way.
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