“Do you have power?” It was, and for some is sadly still the relevant question. We were among the fortunate who did not lose power in the recent ice storm, though the unplanned “skylight” in our back house courtesy of a neighbor’s tree limb still needs to be addressed. As we emerged from the first few days of closures, we greeted one another with this question, “do you have power?” and depending on the answer the conversation took one of several paths … No: What can we do to help? Yes, thank goodness: it is kind of beautiful, isn’t it?
So much about the tenuousness and the tenderness of our lives is revealed in times like these. The good and the bad. Just as COVID reveals the gaps in our healthcare systems and also at times a sense of the common good, ice storms show us what can happen to our fragile infrastructure and how dependent we are on neighbors with generators and chainsaws.
Here is an incomplete list of some of the things I saw or heard about or encountered:
Warming centers were opened but without meals. Dark traffic lights were treated like four-way stops, mostly. People shared stories, and they shared homes. Social media posts were hour-by-hour complaints and also heartfelt cheers for the utility workers. There were tragic tales and grievances and frustrations and countless examples of people doing the best they could for themselves and for their neighbors. And there were pictures, strangely beautiful pictures. Red berries coated in ice, candles illuminating tables of odd assortments of people eating odd assortments of food, sunlight making those same dangerous tree branches look like something from a fairy tale.
Maybe it was those images of the white woods … It’s not exactly the same, but all of this has had me thinking about the bit in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the children are about to meet Aslan for the first time. “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Ice storms are not safe; they are dangerous and harsh. Cold is not good if you have no place to stay, or if your place to stay has no heat. They reveal the gross inequities of our lives, and they can bring out the worst in us as we scramble to make sure we get the last of the milk and bread and the first spot for the tree removal service. And ice storms are beautiful, showing us familiar vistas changed into gorgeous and glowing surprises. They can bring out the best in us as we open our doors to make room for cold friends and family or even strangers. It’s possible that they can slow us down, and not just at the dark intersections, but in other daily patterns as we forgo the harried schedule for a little while.
The same story can be good news and bad news at the same time. The same story can be good news and bad news for the same person depending on when you ask them how they’re doing or whether or not they have power. If the ice storm felt brutal to you or to those you care about, I’m not trying to convince you to put a positive spin on it. If the ice storm was occasionally beautiful to you, you don’t have to hide those pictures. If it was brutal and beautiful to you, let both things be true. It can be complicated. The best and truest stories usually are.