9/21/03 When the power used


When the power used to go out, you always assumed something was wrong with your household fuse box; now, you assume that half the eastern seaboard is in a state of powerless chaos, and either terrorists or the decaying infrastructure of America’s power grid is to blame. We’re not sure what happened here on Saturday, but the second everything shut off, we were ready with candles, flashlights, a crank-powered shortwave radio and five giant jugs of Berkshire Mountain Spring Water.

Since we had about fifteen minutes of sunlight left, I went and watched the sundown, unsure how much light we were going to have for the weekend.

Then Tessa and I went to the top of our hill, where we both said goodbye to her father, roughly two years to the day after he died. I’ve written about it before, but I may well be the last person Blakey ever met and actually remembered. That’s about all I can say about my relationship to him, whereas Tessa has made a fabulous film about their relationship. It’s enough just to be present and accounted for when the person you love needs closure and commiseration with someone gone from their lives.

When my childhood friend Laura Miller died a few years ago, one of her cousins, Amy Wellso, said that people can always be brought back to the room by mentioning them and telling stories about them. Normally I pooh-pooh such talk as flaccid hooey, but it got me thinking: who, really, is the person next to you? Who are the people in the room with you right now? You only believe that they are there because you can “see” them, you can “hear” them when they talk, and everyone else in the room has (silently) agreed that they are indeed there.

But in this complicated world of sensory illusion, they are only “there” because you believe they are. It’s a very strong and irrefutable belief, but a belief nonetheless. So when you talk of someone who is not there, remember the way they smelled, things they have said, or theories they have proffered, it’s not really that much different, sensory-speaking, than them being there. Sure, they are unable to respond, but I think any being from another dimension would find that to be merely quibbling.

So I began to agree with Amy Wellso. When I mentioned the pioneer spirit and technophilia of my grandmother at my wedding, 200 people saw her for a brief moment, and by some definition, she was there. Occasionally, a curled-up sweater on the floor, in the corner of my eye, becomes my cat Elgar, who died in 1984. I could have sworn he was there, and if your senses are to be stretched, in a way, he was.