7 Thoughts on Power

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Photo courtesy of cogdogblog

Last Friday, one of the busiest days of the summer tourist season, we set aside the morning for a pancake breakfast with our son, daughter-in-law, and 7-month-old granddaughter. They were visiting from Chicago, and we awaited fresh pancakes my husband flipped in the cast iron skillet.

Until the rumble of the exhaust fan and the hum of the refrigerator stopped.

We knew that this sudden silence signaled a power outage. While the pancakes sizzled in the still-warm skillet (one advantage of an electric stove), our chef went upstairs for a quick check on news from Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO) before the computer and modem back-up battery died.

The report wasn’t good: a car plowed into an electric pole, and we should anticipate a long outage. I downloaded documents to my (fully-charged) laptop.

I found it hard to concentrate that morning, recognizing I wouldn’t be able to finish a blog post, anticipating a disrupted afternoon working at Lopez Bookshop, wondering if we’d have power in time to bake the casserole our daughter had prepared for that night’s dinner, and fretting about the driver’s condition. A good response for me at such times is to take a walk with dog.

Everything seemed quieter that morning, even though ferries were still sailing, and bicyclists cruised by. One neighbor lounging outside had heard that the power disruption caused the cancellation of that day’s scheduled blood drive, and it might take six hours to repair the lines brought down by the car crash.

Electrical-Outlet-8830cIt’s not unusual to lose electricity on this small, rural island, but it’s not anywhere as common as it was when we lived in Stehekin, WA. My ease with “losing power” has faded some since I wrote of the lessons I learned about control in Stehekin. Reflections on power—both literal and metaphorical—accompanied me as I walked the quiet Lopez road. Here are 7 musings from that day:

  1. Regaining Power—I trust the electricity will be restored. But having, losing, and regaining personal power is not so certain.
  2. Electricity and Power—We often refer to the energy source that lights our homes and businesses, runs our devices, and now, fuels cars, as “power.” And it’s true electricity is a force that dominates our lives, at least in many parts of the world. It also contributes to people’s success—and usually diminishes prosperity when it’s absent.
  3. Backup Systems—Even in my small community, we’ve become so reliant on equipment, communication systems, and electronic transactions that we struggle when they’re out of commission. We want, and in some cases need, alternatives to keep disruptions to a minimum. The thought of taking a day/hour/half-hour off is distressing for many.
  4. Power for Life-supporting Measures—From thoughts about backup systems, my mind reflected about the terror of an outage for people who rely on electric-powered equipment for life-supporting oxygen, medication, and monitors.
  5. The Driver—My neighbor also reported he’d seen a medical evacuation helicopter flying toward the village where the clinic is, and then minutes later, heading toward the north, likely to a hospital in Bellingham. What happened to that person? What caused the crash?
  6. OPALCO Crew—I know a number of the local lineworkers, including a high school classmate of my son and daughter. Over the years, several crewmembers have been seriously injured on the job. I feel deep gratitude for their skill and courage to respond, often in hazardous weather, when lights flicker and machines shut down. I learned later that the broken utility pole had crashed across the road and started a
    08-17-2018-fire
    photo by “San Juan Islander” newspaper

    grass fire at a neighboring farm. Lopez Fire and EMS crews receive my gratitude, too—they kept the fire from burning out of control.

  7. Privilege and Power—All of these musings ultimately led me to the link between privilege and power. Whether it’s electrical or personal, literal or metaphorical, power is a privilege. Just consider Puerto Rico, when Hurricane Maria knocked out electricity to the entire U.S. territory in September 2017. Nearly a year later, some residents still have no lights. And clearly, they lacked power to receive an effective emergency response from the U.S.

By the end of my walk, I had renewed awareness of how lucky-blessed-privileged-humbled I am to have power.

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This morning, as I was just about to push the “liquefy” button on my blender filled with green smoothie ingredients, the kitchen again went quiet. I still don’t know why, but I “lost power” for less than 10 minutes. I guess the number 7 (reflections) wasn’t so lucky, or perhaps I just needed more reflection time.

 

 

 

*Afterthought #78 – The Plank in My Own Eye

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Margaret Renkl, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, published a piece just yesterday (July 30) that is a meaningful afterthought to my post, Going Further to Stand With People of Color. Based in Nashville, TN, Renkl writes about flora, fauna, politics, and culture in the American South. In “How to Talk to a Racist,” she references Matthew 7:1-5 with this advice:

So take a breath. When you encounter a person who believes he’s merely honoring his ancestors by driving a car with an image of the Confederate battle flag on the tag, when a Facebook friend announces that it’s disrespectful to take a knee during the national anthem, when you sit down next to someone at the church picnic who genuinely loves and respects the black people they know but who consistently votes for politicians with overtly racist policies, stop for just a moment and take a breath. 

Before you say a single word, think of all the times you made an assumption about a stranger that proved to be untrue. Think of the times you found yourself feeling uneasy in the company of strangers of another race — think about how you were forced to interrogate that uneasiness. Think of the plank in your own eye. 

To begin a real conversation about racism, start there.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that plank in my eye, and I have a lot more to do as I study Fit for Freedom, Not for Justice: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice by Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel. Writers like them and Margaret Renkl are good companions.

 

 

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

Going Further to Stand with People of Color

A second load of laundry is on the line after emptying suitcases last night.  I had unpacked slowly, thinking about the four-day gathering with Friends (Quakers) we had just returned from. This year’s North Pacific Yearly Meeting at the University of Puget Sound focused on racism and featured Vanessa Julye , the coordinator of the Ministry on Racism at Friends General Conference.

Vanessa has written extensively about her journey toward eliminating racism in the Religious Society of Friends. In this short video from QuakerSpeak, she talks about Quakers and Racism.

Vanessa is also co-author, with Donna McDaniel, of Fit for Freedom, Not for Justice: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice.fff cover

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I’m still digesting all that Vanessa presented and that we all shared with each other in response to this query:

How can we European-American Quakers go further in standing with all people of color and in sharing the power that has been part of white privilege?

Conversations about the ways European-Americans have benefited from white privilege and white supremacy were tough for me. I need to consider what I heard and to take a close look at how I’m complicit in racism. In the coming weeks, I’ll strive to take more steps to stand with people of color.

Biking Naked (Not)

It had been a long time since I’d let out a “Woohoo!” while riding a bike. But fifteen years ago, that’s the word that escaped the first time a friend’s electric bike gently boosted my pedaling up my gravel lane. Ever since then, I’ve been breezing through headwinds and up hills on my own electric hybrid bicycle, inhaling the sweet smell of lilacs and manure as I sail past grazing sheep and cows on my way to town. Although Lopez is known as “the flat island” and “the biking island,” it still has plenty of hills to tax my aging knees and lower back.

My first e-bike, an artic blue Merida Powercycle, had a 24-volt lead-acid battery pack. That kind of power meant the energy most people expend to walk briskly will propel a bicycle 13 miles per hour on level ground. And with such a crank-drive bike, you only need moderate pedaling to get up hills that even a serious cyclist might push a standard bike up. Or, as a friend who recently received an electric bike for her birthday says, “It’s like having an angel at your back pushing you up a hill.”

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My IZIP, Penny, loaded with groceries

A few years ago, after many miles of riding—and replacing two batteries—I decided to upgrade to an IZIP Trekking electric bike. This pedal-assist model is powered by a 24-volt Lithium-ion battery integrated in the copper-penny frame with its specifically-designed down tube. The IZIP a bit lighter weight than the Merida, and it gives me that same angelic nudge when the road upslopes. Sorry, IZIP no longer makes the Trekking version, but their newer models offer the latest advances in e-bike technology.

And no, I don’t bike naked.

But I do feel some of that metaphoric exposure I describe in my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. For one, I’m free of the steel shell of my Subaru that blocks the scent of Nootka roses, temperatures that warm or cool my skin, and the brush of wind on nose and lips. Even when rain dots my glasses, I relish the tactile encounter with the elements. More importantly, though, my pedaling and panting stimulate thoughts and ideas. Sometimes the bike leads me through uncertainties and questions that perplex; other times, the combination of exertion and sensory input opens me to insights, clarity, and calm.

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Penny’s down tube holds the battery – and wise words

I could use some of that inspiration when a bystander shouts as I pedal past, “Hey, that’s cheating!”

I’m searching for a quick comeback like the one I’ve developed in response to questions I frequently hear when talking about my book:

“Did you really hike naked?” My husband did.

“Isn’t that painful?” He says it’s not.

“Are there pictures?” No (but there’s one in this post).

My simple reply is, “It’s MOSTLY a metaphor.”

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As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing dishonest about that “angel” at my back when I turn into a headwind or approach an incline. As I sail past the snarky commenter, I’d like to smile and let my jet stream hold a few words that set the record straight.

How would you respond? Any suggestions are welcome.