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Kyle Eller: Extended time without power suggests I’ve lost a sense of silence

My house was in one of the “ground zero” neighborhoods in Duluth, so we were without power for more than five days.

That created a few hardships, as you might imagine. Instead of our mostly electric kitchen appliances, we did cooking on a camp stove. We packed what we could salvage from our refrigerator and freezer into a cooler that we had to keep stocked with ice, which was sometimes in short supply. We used camp lanterns to find our way around at night or to play a game of cribbage.

Kyle Eller
Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

The storm hit just before a couple of the hottest days of the summer so far, and we were without fans, so we had to do our best to keep the house cool with opening and closing windows and shades at the right time.

We had to make a couple of trips to the laundromat. Our cordless telephones stopped working, which meant we had to rely on cell phones for communication — cell phones that have a finite battery life.

Internet access was problematic, and my laptop doesn’t have the longest battery life, adding new challenges to getting my work done on time, which is sometimes enough of a challenge when it comes to newspapers.

There is probably going to be some additional expense our budget didn’t need.

And because this storm caused widespread damage, it took a day or so before things like nearby grocery stores and my office started working. The first day, travel was a bit dicey, too.

It was uncomfortable — some steamy nights without as much sleep as I needed. It was inconvenient. It was awkward. Coffee shops and laundromats were crowded, although people were generally friendly through it all.

But let’s be honest: I really lacked for nothing in terms of essentials and even luxuries. I had water — hot water if I wanted it — the whole time. I not only didn’t lack for food, I ate too much of it. We ate out when the camp stove and cooler thing was inconvenient. I lacked no shelter. I could even watch movies on a tablet.

It was basically an extended camping trip with a more comfortable bed and bathroom.

We had more offers of various kinds of assistance than I can begin to tell you. Family, friends, neighbors, city workers, power people — they were all first rate. In many ways, it was yet another testimony to what a great place northern Minnesota is to live.

But one thing I discovered about myself is how soft I am — how full of first-world problems I am.

This is embarrassing to admit, but do you want to know what I missed most? Constant wifi. I wanted to be able to get online, do my thing, watch Netflix before bed.

I have written before that I am a long-time creature of the Internet, but my time without power convinced me it’s worse than I thought, and I don’t like it. I wasn’t really able to shake it, either. There wasn’t a point — a couple of days in, perhaps — where I just settled in and didn’t feel the need to be online.

Part of this is that I was on deadline and worried how my work was going to get done, and I was also eager for information on weather and repair efforts and the rest and how other people were faring — the Internet was our chief source for all that.

But still. Ten or 15 years ago I know exactly how I would have spent those long hours. I would have been reading. I would have been thrilled at the prospect.

In this recent incident, I didn’t finish a single book in all that time without power, although I did make progress in a couple. It’s true that life has changed — with children and many other things. But the truth is I was often just checking my phone, like I would any other day.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I don’t play the new Pokemon game that is sweeping the country, but I have been reading social media posts from my friends, and apparently there are people all over wandering around like zombies, to the point where it’s a little creepy.

I don’t mean any offense if you’re into the game, and maybe I just misunderstand it, but something just doesn’t feel right about it to me.

In any case, I wish I had words of wisdom or some grand plan for putting these things back in their proper balance, but I don’t, other than to pray more and perhaps find ways to “mortify” that desire to be online all the time.

I know many people struggle with silence, but I used to thrive on it. Now I can’t even deal with it when it’s practically imposed on me. If I’m going through that, I can only imagine how difficult it is for people who didn’t like it to begin with.

St. Josemaria Escriva said that silence is the gatekeeper of the interior life. Carving out space for that is something worth doing, even if it’s a struggle.

If you have any bright ideas or tips, feel free to send them my way.

Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at keller@dioceseduluth.org.