By Alan Bodnar Ph.D.
February 18th, 2024
Alan Bodnar

I am writing today by the dim light filtering into the room from a troubled sky. The rain has been constant since yesterday and the trees, stripped of their leaves, sway with menace in winds that howl like a freight train, alternately approaching and receding from my safe perch in the little room at the top of the stairs.

Half an hour ago, my wife and I were having our morning coffee while catching up on the news from television, the newspaper, and Internet. The lead story was about the storm that had made its way across the country and traveled up the East Coast from Florida to meet us here this morning. Just as I was scrolling through a story about power outages, the lights went out.

It is rare for us to lose power even in the harsh New England weather. By some lucky combination of wise town planning, buried cables and winds that zigged when they might have zagged, we have been spared the kind of destruction that makes the daily news. For this we are grateful though a little rusty about what to do when power fails.

For light, we have batteries and whatever dim illumination the leaden sky provides. We think we can cook on our gas stove but then realize that we need an electric spark to ignite the burners. The internet should work, but for some reason doesn’t. Most likely it’s the modem and router that cannot do their work of connecting our devices to the web because they too depend on electricity. Our cell phones are charged, and while they strain and fail to connect us to the web, they allow us to make and receive calls and text messages. We are not alone.

Not alone but unplugged and safe. There is comfort, even pleasure, in being cut off for a time from the flood of information that flows unceasingly into our awareness from mainstream news outlets and social media.

It is my choice to protect myself from both, taking in only as much as I need to stay informed. The television can be turned off, social media can be ignored and contact with others can be regulated. It is always a matter of choice, but when there is no choice and nature steps in to turn off the lights, there is a kind of peace that comes from being left to our own devices, not the electronic ones (pardon the pun) but left to solve problems with the aid of nothing more than our own ingenuity.

Today’s storm has not given us any problems, only inconveniences and a chance to be more mindful about how we spend our time. We can cancel an appointment, postpone our trip to the town dump, breakfast on cold cereal instead of oatmeal, read by the available light, and communicate with friends and family with our still functioning cell phones. We can do all that and reflect on this novel state of being, at least partially, unplugged.

I grew up unplugged. For reasons that I still don’t completely understand, we didn’t have a telephone in our apartment. I remember starting high school and filling out a data sheet asking for my telephone number with a phrase I used often in those days, “No phone.” We didn’t have a phone in our apartment, but there was a phone booth across the street. It stood in front of a function hall that blared out the music of weddings and the profanities of drunken revelers, both wafting into our open windows on warm summer nights.

We used the phone booth to communicate with the outside world, giving our friends a code by which we could identify them. Call the number, hang up after the third ring, and do the same thing two more times. When we heard that sequence, we knew the call was for one of us and went to the phone booth to answer on the third try. Of course, the system only worked when our windows were open, and we’ll never know what we missed in the colder seasons. All that changed when I was 16 and a phone mysteriously rang inside of our apartment, a surprise gift from my parents.

A few years later, three friends and I would miss the six-day Arab-Israeli war, which happened while we were unplugged on a canoe trip in a remote corner of upstate New York. We came back to a world that seemed to have changed in an instant, a harsh re-entry from paradise into a world of violence and hate. Perhaps we need to unplug more often.

The blizzard of ’78 with its hurricane force winds and record-breaking snowfall paralyzed the Boston area for weeks. It buried our car and left us in the dark. When the sun and electricity returned, we joined our neighbors digging out together and skied to the grocery store to buy the supplies we needed.

Unplugged is finding new ways to accomplish routine tasks when the lights go out, to keep in touch with those we love when ordinary means of communication fail, to be present to the people we are with every day without the usual distractions of the electronic world.

Unplugged is having the time to reflect on what is most important, to be grateful for what we have, and charitable to those who do not have what they need. Abraham Maslow put food, clothing, shelter, love and belonging at the base of his hierarchy of needs, and unplugged reminds us that he gave us a good place to start.

The power came back while I was writing, but I didn’t turn on the light in the room. The light from the window was enough to finish. Tomorrow we will gather the broken branches from the lawn and cart them to the town dump. Plugged in once again, we will resume our routine, but this time, more aware of what we are missing and determined to find it in the calm eye of the storm.

Posted in Columnists, In Person | Comments Off on Unplugged

Comments are closed.

Powered By MemberPress WooCommerce Plus Integration