What we hold when lightning strikes
Winds hurled hail sideways, pelting the windows like bullets.
“Mommy daddy mommy daddy!”
Our son runs down the stairs in a panic. I hold him.
Then a crrrrack is followed by a thump. The floor shook as if a dumbbell was dropped upstairs where our daughter sleeps. No sound came from her.
My wife ran up and brought her down, her eyes fighting the living room light. It was then that the power went out.
There is nothing like the fear of death and loss of electricity to put things in perspective.
It is alarming how much you think you lose when you lose electricity—nothing powering the router that puts a world of information at your fingertips—nothing powering the refrigerator that cools your supply of food—nothing even to power the sound machine that helps your baby sleep at night. The suddenness of the still dark makes you anxious.
Then you realize not much has actually changed.
My children and my wife were safe. My wife nursed our daughter, and gave our son a snack. I still felt the urge to write, as I usually do at the end of the day. Only now I had to write in free-hand. I did, and it felt good to write by hand with my son at the table next to me, munching away. It felt more transparent. No rectangular screen hid my thoughts from him.
Don’t get it twisted. We didn’t go Robinson Crusoe or Cast Away that night.
I wrote the bulk of this post in pen—not quill—under the fluorescent glow of a battery-charged lantern—not candlelight. My son sat next to me eating Aged White Cheddar Pirate’s Booty for God’s sake.
But I still felt a return to something more primal, more instinctual.
Without the draw of twitter, or pull of the NBA Playoffs, I was free to consider what truly mattered to me in that moment. It wasn’t social media, or anything accessible by internet or wireless data. Holding my son on the couch, I realized all that mattered was in my arms.
After everyone was back asleep after midnight, I took our dog for a walk.
She had been shivering under the bed for an hour, afraid of the storm. My block looked apocalyptic, branches everywhere, no hum of streetlights overhead. Just the wind, and the glow of distant lightning in the sky.
As I round the corner for home, porch lights flickered; power was restored. The subtle glow of fluorescent light filled the road once again. As the street light merged eerily with the stormy iridescent night sky, something became clear to me.
All that we take as modern is only a reinvention of the ancient.
How different really are emojis from hieroglyphics? Only the walls where we paint them have changed. The need to communicate hasn’t changed, only the forum in which we share experience.
We want so hard to differentiate ourselves from history, to be on the cutting edge of civilization, to stand uniquely ahead of our past. But no matter where technology takes us, it cannot change the fact that we are human. Our technology will always be only an extension of us.
We are what truly matters in life. The things we use don’t.