Waking up in our home in Memphis on July 22, 2003, we saw just what a few minutes of severe weather could do to a city. There were no tornadoes or flooding. It was just a thunderstorm but with 100 M.P.H. winds. This storm, later called “Hurricane Elvis,” brought that busy city to a grinding halt.
I don’t fully understand what happens when we lose power during a thunderstorm. But in this case, even to someone who knows nothing about running a power grid, anyone could see the power lines flapping in the wind and the electricity poles splintered in half and lying across the road and know that this was going to be a long repair process.
More than half of the homes and businesses were without power. Our street didn’t get the lights turned back on for 13 days. For the first few days, there was concern that the water wasn’t properly sanitized so we were cautioned from drinking or cooking with it.
We had one-year old twins at the time. On the first day after the storm, I loaded my girls in the car and we drove to the closest grocery store. I planned to pick up a few necessary items to get us through the day. When I got there an hour after the store had opened, I saw that the shelves were nearly empty. Like I was suddenly dropped in the middle of a grocery store game show, I planned my course of action. I sped the double stroller to the breakfast aisle where I quickly grabbed a box of off-brand Cheerios and a dented can of peaches, and then I headed to the dairy section.
The dairy cases were locked shut; a heavy chain snaked through the handles with a padlock in the center. A woman was pleading with the store manager to sell her milk for her baby. The man firmly but kindly told her he couldn’t do it. He said the power was out at the store and the generators had just kicked on so the milk had been unrefrigerated for too long and was not for sale. The panicked mother fell to her knees, wailing. I took that as my cue to leave. I returned the items I had planned to buy to the nearest shelf and took my girls home.
The girls and I stayed in Memphis for the rest of the week, but my husband eventually drove us to Nashville to stay with my parents. The heat finally beat us.
When I look back on that week without electricity, for the most part, I don’t remember being afraid for my safety or for the safety of my girls. (Luckily for me, this was before the post-apocalypse/zombie craze hit our popular culture.)
The only time I really remember feeling scared was when I drove at night. Without streetlights or traffic lights or lights shining through the windows of homes, a driver can lose her bearings easily. I would pass through intersections without stopping because I didn’t know I had approached one until I saw headlights coming down the cross street.
Light is something you can’t fully appreciate until it’s gone. It’s no wonder we associate grief and wickedness with the absence of light. When you search for the word “light” in the Old Testament, you find an abundance of examples in the Book of Job and in the Psalms. The authors plead for light and the clarity it brings. In the dark, he is weary and afraid. He feels alone.
In the Gospels, Jesus claims over and over that he is the light. He asks us to accept his offering of light, which will bring goodness, peace, and direction. After we receive it, we are charged to let his light shine through us for everyone to see.
I’ve seen the confusion and hurt darkness can bring. Let’s choose to embrace this offered light!