Let There Be Light (and Heat)


It may be clichéd to start a story with, “the lights flickered ominously,” but that’s really what happened. I was sitting in the living room on a late October Shabbat afternoon with my mom and a friend and we were playing the “what do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” game. At that point, it had been snowing for just under three hours and it was starting to look really pretty outside. We were talking about how annoyed we were that it was snowing on Saturday night—if it had been Sunday, we might have had a chance of a snow day on Monday. If only we had known.

I doubt that anyone in Connecticut or New Jersey doesn’t remember the October snowstorm and the resultant power outages. The effect of heavy, wet snow on branches still adorned with brightly colored, fall leaves was devastating. Alfred (an innocent name for a storm that wreaked such havoc) left thousands of people without power for a week or more. All of us who were affected by the storm were reminded of how fortunate we are to have the luxuries that we have become so accustomed to.

When our lights started flickering, around 4 p.m., we had already been hearing thuds as branch after branch fell from the trees, dragged down by the heavy, wet snow on not-yet-fallen leaves. The power flickered off and then we were left sitting in semi-darkness. For some reason, the lamp in the corner of the room was still casting weak light.

After Shabbat ended, my parents, sister, and I went to bed fairly quickly, piling blankets on our beds and hoping desperately that the meager amount of power we had would be enough to sustain the electric heat. Our hopes were dashed when we woke up in the morning to an icy, cold house, the power being completely gone by that point.

Sunday was almost unbearable. We had nothing to do but sit in the cold house; the town was asking everyone to stay off the streets, as many power lines were hanging dangerously in the roads. At the end of that interminable, freezing day my family drove over to our local kosher deli, which thankfully still had electricity. At one point we drove under a tree that was bent over the road, looking like some kind of mockery of a bridge. The tree carnage was astounding, but somehow it appeared that most houses and cars were left unscathed.

At Shuman’s Deli we met my grandparents who drove us north to stay with them in Massachusetts. They took my sister and me to art museums, fed us extra desserts, and generally spoiled us.
My parents, however, had power where they worked, so they had to stay in the cold, dark house for the week. They called frequently, telling us about how difficult it was to be without showers and how they had every blanket in the house on their bed.

At the end of the week, my family reunited with a wonderful Shabbat at Yale, where both my parents went to school and where they met and married. We stayed at a hotel near the Hillel, and it was there that we ate all our meals. Everyone in New Haven, Conn., was exceptionally welcoming and friendly.

It would seem that I spent a week on vacation. Most of the time, that’s what it felt like. But there where times when I experienced the hardships that all of us who lost power felt. While at my grandparents’ home, I ran out of clean clothes, having only packed for a three-night stay.

It was also difficult not knowing when I would get to go home, and not having the comforts of my familiar room, my fluffy blankets and my stack of library books. There were also worries about school — by Tuesday my school had closed for the week, but I had a major project due the following Monday and I wasn’t sure if the teacher was going to expect it to be done or not. Thankfully, she took mercy on us and gave us an extra week to complete it.
It’s easy to say that the lesson we should learn from this experience is to appreciate the things we take for granted like heat and working refrigerators. However, gratitude like this soon wears off as we settle back into our everyday lives.

Months later this storm has the potential to result in so much good. Remember the long, desperately boring days spent sitting at home, unable to go out because of the electrical wires dangling in the street and call up or visit a housebound elderly person who may feel that way all the time.

Remember the desperation at running out of clean clothes, and next time you want to get rid of old clothes, donate them instead of throwing them out. Remember the doubt and worry at being displaced from your home and write a letter or send money to refugees from Gush Katif in Gaza, many of whom still do not have permanent homes.

Above all, remember that we are so blessed to have what we do and to live in places where the power is almost always running. We can turn on the shower and have hot water or put food in the microwave and 60 seconds later have a warm meal. We are the lucky ones, even if we temporarily lost power.