Life (or at least my life) tends to move at a fast and furious pace. I want to slow down. I want to learn HOW to slow down. Work and family obligations tend to conspire with each other, filling my days and nights. At any given time I have a zillion thoughts floating around my head, and lists of tasks I need to complete. I try to do as much as I can in small pockets of time, and often feel fragmented and frustrated. About half of my official work day hours are spent in meetings or in the classroom, and prep, grading, and follow-up tasks occupy much of the rest of those hours. Other obligations (as well as my writing) get pushed to the wee hours, when I’m exhausted.
But this past week was different.
Sunday I admittedly was in crash-and-burn mode. My husband had been out of town for over a week, leaving me to manage my professional obligations along with the social, educational, and extracurricular obligations of a very busy 9 year old; an energetic and needy puppy (yes, after 3 years he is still very much a puppy); and a house with something always going awry. I had a bad cold. My husband came home with a cold. I felt behind on everything, and we were drained.
We also had a hurricane bearing down on us, with warnings to prep before Tuesday evening. The hurricane? It changed everything. On Monday we recognized that we had no choice but to focus on storm prep. We both had a full Tuesday of teaching and meetings, so Monday was the available time. By late Monday, school had been canceled for Tuesday. Leading up to Tuesday night we were busy with securing supplies, learning the yard, completing critical work obligations, and so on. As the storm strengthened, so did our recognition that we could be without power — and Internet, except for sparing use on our phones — for days. The last hurricane took our power for a week, and this one was stronger.
Wednesday morning my family woke and still had power. After a nice hot breakfast, we all retreated to do things we might not be able to do again for days. My daughter watched Netflix. My husband and I did work that involved an Internet connection, while monitoring the storm on a variety of sites — all with our devices plugged in. I was very conscious of the fact that while locally time was about to stand still, further afield it would not. I felt a need to complete tasks related to the outside world so I wouldn’t be too far behind when I got online in a normal capacity again.
At 2:10 on Wednesday, my power went off. We played boggle. Watched the storm snap trees in the distance from the safety of our front porch. Laughed at this shirtless guy walking down our street drinking a beer. Ate dinner by flashlight. Collapsed into sleep in our basement. By Thursday morning, all was calm outside and it was time for cleanup to begin.
A big part of cleanup was in my kitchen. You can’t leave food in a fridge or freezer that doesn’t have power. I quickly triaged items to toss and items to try to put on ice. Everything got cleaned out. I remembered doing this same task two years earlier, during Hurricane Hermine’s aftermath. At that time nothing could be saved. At least this time I was prepared with a generator running my basement freezer and coolers and ice for some refrigerator items.
I realize that I have two options at times like these: I can view it as a loss (food, $$), or as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to hit the reset button. It was probably time to replace the fish sauce, sriracha, and mustard. All week we focused on eating as much fresh food as we could, minimizing its waste. We didn’t go grocery shopping for this week. I made interesting meals out of combinations of what was around (today’s lunch was some just-defrosted pan-fried cod that had been lost at the back of the freezer — thank you, gas stove — with a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and burrata). My daughter discovered that she likes plain Greek yogurt with a bit of granola on top for breakfast. The joys of not having choice are evident. A clean and empty fridge is full of possibility. I am grateful for this opportunity to reset.
But what does my refrigerator have to do with anything else? While I write this, I realize that I’ve been given a greater opportunity to reset. Two nights in a row, without lights and conserving power and data, I simply put my head down and slept. I slept until I woke up, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It feels good to catch up on sleep. I didn’t touch my bullet journal since … Sunday before the storm, maybe? Last week’s lists are likely irrelevant right now, and I have a chance to think about what I want to prioritize moving forward. Email slowed during the storm week, with almost no new local requests. And I pretty much did not work on professional tasks (save for my daily commitment to write 400 words per day) for 48 hours because the conditions were not conducive. Somehow waiting in line to refill gas cans and buy ice, cleaning the yard debris, and checking on neighbors have been more important. Ditto playing games with my daughter and inviting friends over to help eat what fresh food remains.
I took a rest from work. I carried rest mode through when my power came back, not worrying about work until Monday. The official return to the university being open was my signal to hit reset button on work and dive back in, refreshed and with a reorganized sense of priorities. I’m feeling hopeful about it.
I just hope that the next time it doesn’t take a major natural disaster to help me press the reset button, and/or that I can keep myself from needing it so desperately.