Seeing the light: Isabel encourages focus on things that really matter

Hopefully by the time you read this on Monday morning, you're not still in the dark. Well, it is Monday morning, so mentally it may take a while for the lights to come on upstairs.

But I'm talking about the darkness imposed by our dear friend Isabel, who blew into Charlottesville a week ago and took our electricity with her.

For some people, the blackout was temporary: My power came roaring back to life at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, jolting me out of my post-hurricane party slumber.

For others, the power outage was a little more inconvenient. A week without power wasn't just a threat from the power company -- it became a reality for some students.

And, thus, Hurricane Isabel divided the University community into haves and have nots.

My friend Gretchen said it best. Power: It's the new drought.

Charlottesville has been a city of extremes over the past year, blanched by a three-year drought, blanketed in several feet of snow, then hit by a hurricane and left without power.

Now, having survived a week of leading an Amish lifestyle, I just have to ask: Wasn't it a little refreshing?

We often do not realize how dependent we've become on e-mail, cell phones, Instant Messanger and TV until we're forced to interact in with our friends face-to-face rather than via a screen or a phone.

We live in a culture where we are essentially on-call 24 hours a day, for our friends, our families and our professors.

Friends can call at any hour of the day, interrupting a quiet dinner, a movie, or your best efforts to study for that test you have on Wednesday. Your parents can call you at 8:00 a.m. on Friday morning and ask how that very same test went. Professors can e-mail you two days before a new semester starts and ask that you read the first 200 pages of the textbook before class meets.

Why can't the power ever go out at times like these?

I'll admit that dressing in the dark, throwing away $50 worth of refrigerated food and sweating as you try to sleep are not ideal situations. Whether we like it our not, electricity powers our lifestyle.

But when my cell phone charger wouldn't work, my alarm couldn't go off and I couldn't possibly be using a computer to get my work done, I didn't feel isolated from the rest of world.

In fact, I felt more connected than ever.

We slept with the windows open, lit candles in the living room and turned on a battery-operated radio. We didn't even turn it to the news station. We had already gotten the memo that there was a hurricane raging outside, so we opted for some music instead.

With canned goods, bottled water, scented candles and an apartment full of soaking wet friends, what more do you need?

Not everyone took advantage of the weather-imposed long weekend by throwing a hurricane party. (Although, I would thoroughly recommend it if we're ever hit again.)

I had one girl speak up in my English discussion the following Tuesday and say to the professor, "With no power at my apartment since Thursday, I actually read the book for class this week."

She was 300 pages ahead of the rest of us, thanks to some quality reading time.

I would have been farther along in the book too, but my apartment had electricity and it forced me to run the vacuum cleaner all weekend to clean up from the party.

Even though some students had power where they lived, the blackouts in other parts of Charlottesville still caused them to alter their normal routine.

With the gyms closed on Friday, there was no choice but to take a long run or walk outside. If you could manage not to trip on a fallen tree limb, it was a great day for a run.

When the sun actually came streaming through the clouds, I had to stop and ask myself if a hurricane really had come through the night before.

After my run, I had a better understanding of why certain cultures choose to live without electricity. It forced us to get a little fresh air and a little time away from the computer screen.

It showed us how candlelight is preferable over a harsh fluorescent bulb, and time spent together is much more fulfilling than a text message.

And togetherness certainly has been the theme of the last week, as friends without power came flooding into our apartment like displaced refugees.

It became the college-equivalent of a slumber party, with sleeping bags, extra pillows and blankets strewn everywhere.

When the power slowly started coming back to all the areas around Charlottesville, our little refugees packed up their things and went to restock their refrigerators.

I must admit I was sad to see them go.

So now life is back to normal. We have no excuse for not writing that paper. Our cell phones buzz at will, in the middle of class or in the middle of the night. We caught this week's episode of the Bachelor and did not miss Friends, thank goodness.

I still have candles sitting on my countertops, their wicks burned down to stubs after staying lit all night. It's now tempting to strike a match rather than flick a switch when I need light in my bathroom.

At the risk of killing you with the cliché, I can say I've finally seen the light: Sometimes being disconnected is the very thing we need to reconnect with real life.

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