I open up Microsoft Word. Do I still have Microsoft Word? I do. On the way, I look at all of the standard browser tabs, nothing refreshed since I went to bed last night. We didn’t know there would be a storm when we went to bed. Some combination of busyness and exhaustion from attempting to get our house ready to move next week. Showings, and open houses, and packing boxes to end up in Chicago. In a house I’ve never visited and a town I’ve never known. An interstate move that will go from start to finish in under a month.
The boy was sleeping between us (one less bed to make in the morning if there is a showing) when I thought I was having a dream about being in my new town. There was a thunderstorm and my kids were at an address I couldn’t find. I slowly came to and realized it was not a dream, but a severe thunderstorm in my current backyard. I had just thought a few days ago, “We haven’t really had many severe storms since we’ve moved here. I’ve never seen bad lightning and wind from my bedroom skylights and windows.”
Well, here it came. I hate to exaggerate, but I don’t recall a worse storm. Wickedly bright lightning, howling wind, driving rain, and hail. Golf ball? Tennis ball? Who knows. I was trying to ignore it. Three of the five family members were awake for it. The boy and the dog slept soundly through it all. After it started to calm down, I did my standard mental gymnastics to try to turn off my racing brain that had moved forward to all of the things that could go wrong and all of things I had to be afraid of with this move. My normal approach is something like this: Start at 1024 (or some other random number) and subtract by 7. It’s easy enough that you can keep doing it, but hard enough that you have to stay focused on where you are — and not on your pesky thoughts. Once I was down in the 600’s, I was drowsy enough to fall back to sleep.
I awoke around 6:50, or so I was told because the power was out. Cole was going to drive down the road because he was getting tons of alerts from work about outages and we had no wireless and no cell service. I foolishly tell him to get some coffee and breakfast while he is out, thinking this was just a standard storm. When he comes back, he reports that it is like a war zone, with impassable roads, trees down everywhere, houses crushed, and everyone just wandering around trying to find their way to the places they normally go. We make a second attempt out a little while later and eventually made our way to a Dunkin’ Donuts which had iced drinks, cash only.
The power is going to be out for a long time.
Everything I need to do today is scrapped. Register the kids for school online. Nope. Call the movers. Nope. Take the girl to her orthodontist appointment (can we get these braces off before we move?). Nope. I say, “We can pack the Legos!” Nope. The detached garage with all of the boxes and bubble wrap is behind two powered garage doors with no other way in. “I can paint!” Nope. Paint is in the garage too. The reality sets in that we are in a disaster area and there will be no more showings for a while. You don’t generally look for a house when there is a tree on your roof. Or maybe you do. I feel badly even thinking that. The brain is churning.
I start to cry on our second trip out. Everything is awful. People are hurting. My stress is getting to me. I see acts of kindness and I cry some more. But I need my damn cell service. I have to talk to the movers.
I drive the kids over to the beach hoping to get some cell service and I’m in luck. As I’m dealing with my first trip for cell and all of the requisite conversations, the kids are on the playground. They wander down into the water for low tide, hiking out to a sand bar. Wading through waist-deep water. We have no towels. There has been no sunscreen applied. No one is fighting for his or her device. They laugh and giggle and hold hands walking back toward me.
We come home. I struggle to try to get cell service to see the outcome of my previous messages. No luck. I hold my phone high in the one corner of the lot that it might work. No luck. I tell them we need to go out again. We go out of our way to avoid all of the impassable roads. We find our way to the hardware store. I, at first, thought we’d buy moving supplies and boxes to get back to work. I quickly realize that I should buy batteries and lanterns because I am going to need them more. We wander through a dark, old hardware store. We are in luck. We move on to the deli – the only restaurant open – and there is a line out the door. That’s a good sign for lunch. My refrigerator is empty from vacation and not wanting to stock a house that will be empty soon. I get my cell service.
We talk with people in line (or “on line” if you are a New Yorker). People who are friendlier than we’ve ever noticed here on Long Island. We tell our storm stories. We help each other. While I’m trying to get more cell service, my kids get a huge pile of onion rings and a sandwich as big as your head. And lemonade and iced tea. We talk in the car as we make our way home. We realize how lucky we were to have no damage. But also, there are no devices.
For the third time out for cell service, I leave the kids at home and go over to their school. My normal directions with numbers to call and emergency procedures when they are home alone go out the door. “If there is any emergency … umm, go find a neighbor.” That will have to do.
I come home frazzled. They are playing Battleship and making paper lists and laughing – and still eating onion rings.
At almost 3:00, I have finally seen enough “No Service” displays on my phone and decide nothing is getting done today and there will be little to no progress. I pour myself a glass of lukewarm wine from the fridge. I decide to take the dog out on the front porch to the rocking chairs. He’s on a leash – no electric fence technology for him either.
I sit. I start to rock. I sip a glass of wine. He lies next to me, not even trying to go anywhere. The breeze rustles through the trees and none of nature seems uptight about what happened last night. The humans down the street who are attempting to clear giant trees off their roof aren’t feeling the same way, I’m sure.
“I haven’t spent enough time in these rocking chairs,” I think. There’s always something to do, a message to check, a message to send, a task to accomplish. “I haven’t rocked enough while I’ve been here.” It’s not exactly quiet right now with the noise of generators and chain saws and wood chippers and sirens. But I hear the creaking of the rocking chair and I feel the breeze and I think about the studies that show the dangers of sitting too much. I turn that on its head and think there should be studies about the dangers of sitting too little. Studies about forced busyness and connectivity and to-do lists that will all work out in the end.
Studies about the benefits of just sitting and being.
I think about all of this in my rocking chair. And I decide to write it down. On my laptop, fully charged thankfully — but with no connectivity. What did we even do on these things before the Internet? I’m happy that Microsoft Word no longer has Clippy to help me out. When did that change? I’m glad I can save my document without a connection to the outside world. I think about the fact that I can’t post it right away. I must wait. I must be patient. I must have faith in tomorrow and let go of the stress of trying to control each minute.
Yesterday, I buried a statue of St. Joseph near my For Sale sign. The pressure to sell this house is great. We’ve only been here two years and need to make it happen so we can buy what we want in Chicago and stay in the same school zones to avoid a third school switch for the kids. So, even if I’m not a religious person, I heard this advice and decided to do it. I’ll take any help I can get. While I was burying the statue, I made my daughter say the prayer with me. She was annoyed. I didn’t care.
This morning when we were surveying the damage, my daughter said to me, “You’re prayer really worked.” I assumed she was being sarcastic and snarky (she’s 13) and said, “Yeah, I guess this is what we get when I try to pray.”
She later told me in a quiet moment that what she was trying to say was that my prayer really DID work. St. Joseph protected our house and our family inside it. We were spared and truly fortunate this morning.
She is right.
And not only was our house protected, we remembered the feeling of a rustling breeze, a creaking rocking chair on a front porch, cold lemonade and iced tea in a house without air conditioning, wading at low tide, playing board games, looking through old photo albums, and a sleepy dog lying at your feet while sipping a glass of wine. We remembered the sound of relative silence. The sound of nothing to do. Of nowhere to go. Of no one to call and no one to text.
I am closing up my laptop now to go play a card game with the kids. We were given a gift today.