Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Blackout of 2003 will probably go down in history as one of the new millennium’s most eye-opening events. Economically, it will be disastrous. The direct economic repercussions are huge, and the follow-on repairs will be even bigger. The political fall-out will kill some careers.

To me, however, this was one of the single best things to happen to the society around me. We were given a gift; we were allowed to see what we've forgotten; to find what we didn't know we had lost.

It couldn't have happened at a better time. The heat of summer was tolerable, and a cool breeze prevailed all evening, allowing for the loss of air conditioning to be ignored. It happened on a Thursday evening, allowing people to enjoy a long weekend without feeling guilty, or without hurting their businesses too badly.

As the magnitude of the blackout began to be known, people started to work their way home. Failed traffic lights provided the biggest problem, but in general, people co-operated. Some even abandoned their journeys to direct traffic through these lights. Drivers co-operated by obeying these leaders and handing out praise and bottled water.

At their homes, people opened their doors and windows and moved outside. Neighbours who hadn't talked in months (or ever) became acquainted. Impromptu barbecue parties sprang up, everyone providing the food and drink they could. Conversation replaced television.

As darkness descended, the pleasure of outdoor candlelight or lantern light replaced the halogen security spots. The sounds of crickets replaced the thrum of air conditioning and the noise of traffic. People talked and listened. And they laughed!

And then the stars came out! The city and its suburbs had not seen its stars in decades; probably not since the blackout of '65. Many had never seen a starry sky. Calmness prevailed as people looked skyward. Many lay with their backs on the soft grass, feeling the coolness of the earth and looked into the skies to see nature’s best show.

It was a marvelous gift. We were given back ourselves. We were given back nature. We were given back community. We were reminded what it means to be part of a society that needs each other. We were forced out of our personal fortresses and became a family and remembered what it is to be human.

A good friend of mine suggested we figure out a way to do this monthly. While I think that would be nice, I don’t hold out much hope for it to happen on the scale necessary to see the stars. But, it shouldn’t stop us from having our own power-outages, and enjoying all the other effects.

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