Not as Powerless as You Might Think

This past Wednesday was a significant anniversary, at least it was for anyone who lives along the northeast seaboard of North America. That’s because August 14 marked ten years since a historic, sweeping power failure blacked out big cities and small communities alike, affecting 50 million people for up to four days.

On Wednesday, many of us reflected back on the experience (while others, apparently, partied like it was 2003).

Ten years ago, on August 14, my family and I had just moved into a new house in a new neighbourhood. We hadn’t yet met anyone – more on that later – and our bungalow was a mess with the dust and debris of renos.

When the lights went out on the afternoon of August 14, my husband and I were downtown at work. We were both in office buildings with elevators. Right after the power loss, my colleagues and I carried a co-worker in a wheelchair down the stairs, in the dark – unbeknownst to me, my husband’s colleagues were simultaneously doing the same for him. Hence the good deed marathon had already begun.

I then walked over to my young daughter’s daycare. I mentioned to another parent that I couldn’t reach my husband to find out if he was trapped, and she promptly packed both our kids in the back of her car, scooting us off in the direction of his workplace. (“I know a back route,” she bragged, zipping through side streets to avoid the jammed intersections with failed traffic lights.)

My little family eventually reunited and made it home. In an inspiring feat of resourcefulness, my husband’s personal care attendant made it to our home for the evening shift after first prying himself out of an elevator that had stalled between floors. He did his work by candlelight.

And so on.

I have two favourite memories from that week. The first was stepping outside after dark that first night to look at the stars, an impossible treat for an urban dweller. It was a rare, breathtaking view.

My other favourite moment involves yet another act of benevolence. In the morning, I walked on our new street with my daughter and discovered, to my surprise, a makeshift coffee stand. A couple across the street had rolled out their barbecue and put on an old-fashioned percolator, and were now grandly brewing coffee for any neighbours who gathered. I was delighted to stop for a cuppa, and even more pleased to receive introductions to a wonderful new community of people.

That kindness of spirit we first experienced on our street that morning has endured for a decade. Ten years later, I still think of the 2003 blackout not as the time our air-conditioning failed in the heat of summer, or the time we drove around looking for batteries… but as the way by which we first met our new neighbours.

Were you affected by the blackout of 2003? Did you witness moments of grace and generosity? I’d love to hear from you.

Recent moving truck on our street: Let’s assume Joe is happy with the free publicity…

Recent moving truck on our street: Let’s assume Joe is happy with the free publicity…

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