Five things I learned last week after the power went out at my house:
1. People are kind, and kindness is priceless.
It's hard to tally up all the people who offered my wife and me shelter, a hot shower or a home-cooked meal once they heard that we were among the many thousands of local households hammered by the ice storm.
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It was very ... well, warming to see how swiftly people step up.
2. Find a place to keep all those old blankets and afghans.
For several nights, we slept on a bed covered with more layers than your Italian grandma's Sunday best lasagna.
I feel vindicated for all those times over the years when I've gone into our jammed storage area and said: "Nah, I'm not going to throw that stuff out. Not just yet."
3. A thin membrane separates our lives of pampered 21st-century comfort from 19th-century conditions.
Barely recognizing anymore how extraordinary it is, we go through our daily rounds expecting on-demand, flip-of-a-switch service everywhere we go. We take for granted the myriad digital miracles wrought by ones and zeroes.
Every time there's a power outage, I go through a transition period when I roam the house automatically, moronically flipping switches — then experiencing an instant of baffled surprise. At one level I know, yes, the power's out — but somehow my brain can't quite remember that that really means, nope, I can't charge my iPhone.
This time, after a couple of days, the message finally hit home: Wow, the way we live really is extraordinarily privileged.
4. Yes, they are just terrible for you, but at a few select moments in life, a Five Guys cheeseburger can bring you desperately needed bliss that is worth the calories.
Trust me on this one.
5. It's all material.
If you're a writer, anyway, it is. As long as no one gets hurt, life's challenging moments can produce the best stories. The power went out the day after we put our house up for a sale and on the day the first showings were scheduled. One showing went off anyway, conducted with parkas and flashlights. If we do get the house sold OK, the Big Blackout will have produced a story we'll be telling for years.