August 25, 2021
The Day the World Went Dark
I always imagined writing by candlelight to be more romantic - the stuff of Jane Austen novels or Brugghen’s paintings. But the reality is much more tedious and grim. As I sit with my journal fanned out in front of me, the flame flickers in the lenses of my glasses, and I’m reminded that their blue light coating is now completely useless. I squint one eye to see the letters more clearly on the page, and wonder how long something like this can last. I feel mostly numb. After the COVID pandemic, apocalyptic events have lost their novelty. Plus, we knew this one was coming, even if it did arrive six months ahead of schedule.
I remember the first time I saw a commercial that featured actors with masks on, and the first time I saw ads online for “fashionable” face coverings with embellishments and accessories. It was in those moments that I felt something stir in the pit of my stomach. I pictured every world-ending movie I’d ever seen (Cotagion, 28 Days Later, World War Z, The Road...I could go on) and remembered thinking it was so strange that the people in them seemed to simply adjust to the world as it crumbled around them. So to say it was unnerving at first to see COVID normalized in media is an understatement.
Eventually though, I joined the ranks of movie characters, moving through a new way of life with a regularity that still scares me if I think too long about it. Roving packs of bandits and hardcore survivalists don’t seem like just the stuff of films anymore, what with throwdown fights over toilet paper and folks going to the grocery store in hazmat suits being an everyday reality just a few short months ago. I hate the phrase “the new normal,” but maybe it’s become so ubiquitous for a reason. And this is the only explanation I have for why I feel so empty now. Nearly everything has lost its shock value to me at this point.
Depending on how long this blackout lasts, I’m sure a new kind of panic will set in. But for now, I will enjoy the quiet.
August 26, 2021
The Day After Darkness Fell
When the world’s power went out, it sounded like when your electricty gets cut in a storm, but amplified a million times over. It made such a loud whir it created its own wind that blew through town, as if the nearby buildings had all collapsed at once. But the night didn’t suddenly become silent as you might have imagined. Instead, there were car screeches and crashes in the distance as traffic and street lights blinked out. Police and ambulance sirens howling as they sped to help the injurred and tried to stop looting. The woosh of airplanes nosediving in the sky as their pilots tried desperately to relight engines. And, of course, there was screaming. People stranded in the streets, enveloped by a darkness so total, many wondered if they’d suddenly gone blind before thinking to look up toward the sky. Thankfully, the stars still burned.
After some hours, the noises of chaos died down, and we settled into a kind of quiet that felt like being beneath a heavy blanket. Eerie at first, it sent goosebumps along the nape of my neck. But eventually, I felt held by it. Like I could take a deeper breath than any I’d had in the past two years. There’s something profound about only being able to hear cicadas and tree leaves rustling in the night. As I laid staring at the ceiling, I imagined travelling back to a simpler time and smiled before dozing off.
The fantasy and calm would be short-lived.
August 27, 2021
The Day the President Spoke
And on the third day, the lord God said let them find their battery powered radios, and they did. Since the darkness came, Dan and I have been searching desperately for our camping radio in the heat of our old attic and, at last, we found it nestled in a box between two ratty sleeping bags, a hand-drawn version of our wedding seating chart and a pile of old Stephen King novels.
When we switched it on, the static startled us after so much quiet. “REMEMBER ME? TECHNOLOGY?!” it seemed to shout, putting us both on edge. I did indeed remember, but with varying levels of fondness as we listened from one hour to the next.
“This is WHYY in Philadelphia, reporting to you on Friday, August 27, the third day of the global blackout. In the next half hour, President Biden will give a speech from a secure location within the White House. Until then, more from NASA’s leading solar physicist...”
A woman with a soothing pubic radio voice explained that within the last decade, U.S. solar physicists had indentified the features most useful for predicting solar flares. They then fed their data into a machine so that it could learn to identify those same features. This is how we came to know a major blackout-inducing solar flare was on the horizon in the first place. The problem, she said, was that they had only been able to get information from the solar surface. It was like trying to predict Earth’s weather from temperature alone, without considering things like wind and cloud cover. They hadn’t yet gotten to the next step, which would be to incorporate data from the sun’s atmosphere, and this explained why their estimated timing for the flare was so off-base.
As I listened, I seethed inside thinking about how we’d procastinated on buying a generator for this exact moment. Instead, we’d bought countless throw pillows and rugs and wallpapers as we got bored with the house. We’d wanted a change, but obviously nothing this dramatic. In any event, it was too dangerous to venture out to find a generator now.
I was lost in these thoughts of self-pity when the cooing of the soft-spoken scientist was abruptly cut off.
“I’m sorry doctor, but it sounds like the President is about to address the nation. Let’s listen in.”
“My fellow Americans, these are unprecedented times ...challenging and dangerous times, it’s true. But America has always been known for its resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and there is nothing we can’t do if we work together...”
The rest of the speech was filled with similar platitudes meant to calm fears and engender unity, but if these past few years have proven anything, it’s that we’re not great at coming together for the common good. We can’t even all agree that Ted Lasso is good anymore now that we have a season two. And as for plans to restore power and repair growing damage to the nation’s cities, the speech was skimpy on the details. That said, the administration will have plenty of time to work through the minutiae.
In 2019, a massive power outage crippled Venezuela. Armed biker gangs roamed the streets, terrorizing citizens with guns. Many people - including babies - died from conditions normally easily treated because hospitals didn’t have backup generators or they simply failed. There was also no way for many to get water since pumps were shut down, and families were forced to walk for miles to find natural sources.
That was just one country, for five days. And according to President Biden, we have to be prepared for the global blackout to last for the next two years.
September 3, 2021
The Day I Put Things Off
I haven’t had the strength to do much in the last week, let alone write. I’m not talking about physical strength. We’re lucky - we happened to stock up at Costco the day before the blackout so we’ve been eating fine, and because we get city water as opposed to using a well, it’s still flowing...for now.
What I’m talking about is mental fortitude. Will.
Do you ever wonder why we do things we know we will later regret? Why we put things off even when we know the longer we do, the worse it is?
Today, I had a pounding headache, and for some reason, I just sat with it and suffered. I knew perfectly well where the Ibuprofen was - just mere steps away - and yet, I did not get up. I knew it would make me feel better, but I sat still. An immovable object sunk into the soft gray down of my favorite arm chair, like a rock with fingers that periodically squeezed the bridge of my nose. And worse still, I complained to anyone who would listen. Though given the circumstances, that was just my dog, my husband and my empty living room.
Before bed, I finally relented. I shuffled to the bathroom and swallowed three pills down dry. I know you’re only supposed to take one, but I always take three.
My pain is worse than most, I’ve convinced myself.
October 3, 2021
The Day I Thought of the End of Days
The gas pumps are dry. Without gas, food supply chains will begin to crumble more quickly now. It has been bad enough without computers to figure out where food is needed most or refrigeration to preserve what we’ve got. But without gas, food gets only as far as you can carry.
According to the radio, some people are convinced this is all part of a planned culling of the Earth’s population by the “deep state” so we can try to reverse the environmental damage man has caused. We’re overpopulated, impoverished and toxically partisan - only something cataclysmic could change humanity’s trajectory, weed out the weak and force us to work together.
Of course, there are others who say this can be nothing other than a divine reckoning, though the jury is out on exactly who is perpetrating this reckoning and what their intentions are.
The Christians think it’s time to weed out all the sinners and non-believers. They see the blackout as a sign that the Lord cannot and will no longer be an idle spectator while the war on Christmas rages on and welfare queens ask for abortions on demand. Those who have held true to their faith in Christ and lived by the lessons put forth in the Bible, are the only humans who shall be rewarded with eternal salvation.
Meanwhile, the Jews think that this is the beginning of end of the physical world for everyone, regardless of their moral track record. Per the Talmud, life as we know it will end and we will no longer have any physical needs. The Earth will be returned to the nothingness from whence it came, and souls will delight in the divine glory that remains. Now, whose souls get to do the delighting largely depends on the interpretation of sacred texts, but I’d wager that gentiles have about a 50-50 chance of getting in on olam ha-ba, the “world to come.”
The jury is still out on the Muslims, though. So far it seems the consensus calls for a flexible interpretation of the Quran. You see, a Muslim apocalypse starts with the entire world being engulfed by dukhan or smoke. The smoke obscures all things, much like the darkness of a blackout, so some are saying this is simply a case of “to-may-to, to-mah-to.” In any event, the end result is much the same as the Christians, as ironic as some of them may find that. Cue separating the saints from the sinners, righteous judgement and so on, and so forth.
As for me, I don’t know if this is divine intervention or the course of nature or simply meaningless. I’ve never been into organized religion. After a short stint in Sunday school, my brother refused to make his confirmation and I got to ride his coat-tails. No more fire and brimstone catechism for either of us. Since then, I’ve only ever felt a belief in “something else” when I watched an episode of Ghost Hunters or prayed as a last ditch effort.
“Please God, don’t let me get fired.”
“Please God, let me lose 10 lbs.”
“Please God, save the Phillies bullpen.”
December 10, 2021
The Day the Cold Came
It’s beginning to feel like winter. Global warming kept the temperatures mild through a Thanksgiving where most of us asked if there was anything left worth being thankful for. Being alive and having shelter are as good as it gets right now. There was certainly no feasting to be had, and our stomachs growled so loudly through the night it was hard to sleep through the pain and the noise.
As more nights begin to dip below freezing and we’re without a wood burning fireplace to keep warm, it’s been about layers, blankets and body heat. I feel desperately sad for our dog, who doesn’t understand what’s going on. I feel sad for my husband who feels helpless in the face of all this. And I feel sad for myself because I can’t find the strength to do much else besides feel sad, creating a neverending cycle of wallowing.
Worst of all, today’s the first time we’ve seen snowfall.
If it were any other December, this would prompt rushing to the window to celebrate the official arrival of the holiday season. I can remember so many of these days before, sitting on the sill with tea warming my hands, watching snowflakes drift gently to the ground. One of my favorite things to do was step out onto our back porch and just listen to the stillness of the world. The snow muffles all sounds and at a different time, I would have said it was magical. I would have marveled at the natural world around me and reflected on all that I’m grateful for.
But now, with the world already silenced, even the snow seems tainted. I am reminded of dirt tossed atop a coffin and shutter, though not from the cold.
February, 16, 2021
The Day I Stopped Writing
There’s an old story the Irish tell about Three Castles Head in the West of Cork. They’re not really castles themselves, but three towers that make up the whole of what is known as Dunlough Castle, one of the oldest in southern Ireland. If you stand atop the cliffs upon which the towers sit, you can look out across the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean and see rugged hills along the rest of the Irish coast in the distance, along with a single, solitary light flashing atop the Mizen Head lighthouse.
The towers were at one time connected by a wall from the western cliffs to the shores of a manmade lake, though most of it has fallen now. Locals and visitors alike say that when you sit among the ruins, the feeling is unlike any other castle grounds in Ireland, perhaps best described as a certain eeriness, something indiscriminately amiss. Some say it’s because the towers look to continue well underground and into the sea, where access to the otherworld resides, the home for the spirits of the dead. Others say the place’s history is to blame. Once the home to many lords and ladies of the O‘Donohue family who all died by suicide or murder, the death, despair and sea mist have made this site a “thin place” where the veil between this world and the eternal world is like gauze blowing in the wind, where you walk among the melancholy energies of all those who met their tragic ends there.
There is one claim, though, that I’ve become fascinated with over these last few days as I’ve pored over the old Celtic mythology books my father left me. Legend has it that there is a spectre of a woman in a flowing white gown who appears to visitors whose deaths are imminent. Should you see “the lady of the lake” during your time at Three Castles Head, you are destined to die in mere hours. Of course, the Celts are big on their superstitions, so the tale’s existence in and of itself was not all that surprising to me. It’s moreso about what this ghost’s purpose is. If she foretells of your fast-approaching death, is she doing you a kindness so that you might use the time you have left to get your affairs in order and say your goodbyes? Or is she unaware of what her presence signifies? Perhaps a mere victim herself, thrust from one side of the veil to the other in moments of shifting energies by the living who walk there?
Or maybe, she is just a stealer of souls.
According to Celtic lore, Sluaghs (which roughly translates to ‘hosts’ in Irish Gaelic) are the spirits of the restless dead - spirits so evil they have even been banned from hell - and now they roam the Earth looking for those who will soon die so they can steal and devour their souls. Sluaghs are often said to target the weak, preying on those who are sick or dying, but they’ve also been known to stalk those who are healthy of body but sick of mind, those with the most sorrowful hearts. The only surefire way to avoid them is to avoid the outside world altogether, to keep your windows and doors shut tight and stay inside after dark.
It snowed again today. The sun crept beneath the horizon in the afternoon, having done so earlier and earlier over the past week with such a swiftness that it left me feeling hollow. And as the darkness began to mingle with the silence, I found myself questioning if I really wished to see what the coming months would bring. It seemed to me that the world had already been ravaged by so much devastion, destruction and violence before the power grids had failed that it may not be worth saving. That we - humanity - may be meeting our deserved end. Why cling to a lost and battered ship when there is no lighthouse to guide us home again?
Tonight before bed, I plan to crack the window open...just a little.