Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The great derecho disconnect

Old-school communication at the powerless Ballston Mall. June 2012.

Last week, summer stormed the capital. Literally. The derecho that swept through the DC area knocked out power, disabled water, interrupted cable -- you know, the essentials.

I can't complain, though. My household fared much better than most of my local friends and colleagues. We kept our power (which meant air conditioning) and water (which meant flushing), and by extension our food, rest, and sanity.

The only thing my household lost, in fact, was our Internet. And that means the only thing I personally lost was my delusion that I wasn't addicted to the Internet.

Amid widespread loss of actual necessities, it shames me to admit just how much not having connectivity threw me off. I couldn't pay bills, arrange travel, share documents, or write blog posts. (Hence the hiccup in my posting.) I found myself treating my smartphone as a lifeline, gripping it and staring at it even when signals were weak. I felt unproductive -- and worse, disconnected.

Then one day of no Internet became two. Two because three. And it dawned on me just how much else I was accomplishing. I drafted a new picture book manuscript. I dug into a library book. I joined a friend for an acting class and hung out at the pool. I got coffee with my roommate. I met one of my oldest high school friends in the city and let the evening take us where it would. I even sat in my armchair and stared at the wall for a bit, letting my daydreams run their merry course. (I also learned how to pay my bills via smartphone, but that's a traumatic tale for another time.)

When my Internet did return four days after the storm, I sighed with relief and finished the items languishing on my to-do list. But an odd sense of loss remained. For that brief interlude, life had felt simple in ways that mattered -- Snowpocalypse without the cabin fever.

During that time, interaction wasn't about speed or convenience or stalking people's Facebook pages (though that was a helpful tool for reaching out to affected friends). People were intersecting at the municipal fountain, the coffee shop, and the library. And I for one felt more present in my household and more open to my community.

I don't wish for another derecho to hit the area. That's not a safe or reasonable way to reinforce the lessons from the first one. (Besides, having your power stay on grants the luxury of reflective rest. If I hadn't had power for a week, this post would have turned out quite differently.)

I do wish, however, that now when I catch myself checking my phone right after my alarm rings, or spending sunny Saturday mornings cleaning out my inbox, or scrolling through Facebook right before bed, I will think instead about what simplicity and direct connection felt like.

And in the spirit of remembering, I hope I devote my precious time and busy brain to creating a manuscript, taking a walk, or staring at a wall as the sunlight moves across it -- the actions that connect me to deeper places, in deeper ways.

Prayer #216: Forward/Inward

We all sit on the spectrum of contemplation and action, in constant tension between moving forward and growing inward.

Make me like the tree I watch from my window. It extends its hidden roots and grips the earth in silence so its rustling branches can come closer to scraping the sky and finding the truest blue.

Without roots I am weak. Without branches I am stagnant. Help me nourish both.

Amen.

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