It was a typical Friday night. My son was gaming online with friends, I was reading–in this case Raynor Winn’s The Wild Silence–and Schagen’s city center just three hundred meters away was anything but silent. The restaurants and bars were filled with people, the pleasant hum of their conversations wafting through our windows as if to say Corona is over! Everything’s back to normal again. The only anomaly was that my husband wasn’t yet home. Something else was happening that was unfortunately quite typical for Friday night; a large group of teenagers or twenty-somethings were yelling and screaming in the park close by our home.
A firecracker went off. I’m not talking about a cute little sparkler, or even a whistler, but a huge flash of post-apocalyptic white light followed by a boom that made the windows rattle and the dog cower with her tail between her legs. Part of me wondered if the park and its revelers were still there, because if it hadn’t been for the laughter and drunken screams that soon followed, I could have easily mistaken that firecracker for a bomb.
After reading another chapter of Wild Silence, I decided to call it a night. I flipped on the light switch in the hall, and it immediately went out. Great, I thought. Not going to change a lightbulb at this hour. I’ll just have to traverse the stairs in the dark. I made it up the stairs and flipped on the bedroom lights and nothing happened. Maybe my son had been streaming something that ate up so much bandwidth that it blew a fuse. I used my phone’s flashlight to check the fuse box, but not a single switch had flipped off. Hmmm.
My son emerged from his room with a “what the heck?” expression on his face. A quick peak out the front and back door confirmed that we weren’t the only ones suffering from a power outage. I checked a Schagen Facebook Group with 11,000 members and discovered that multiple streets were affected. I’d experienced power outages in the U.S. countless times, but in the ten years I’ve lived in The Netherlands, this was a first.
Initially, the novelty of this Dutch power outage was a bit exciting. Others in the local group were talking about the candles they had lit, the cozy atmosphere, etc. My son capitalized on the moment and located the candle lantern, a battery lantern and soon commandeered my flashlight. I had my iPhone after all.
“Save your phone battery,” someone posted. “Light a candle instead. You never know how long this outage will last.” That’s when the thoughts started; depressing, doomsday thoughts that are always there in the background, lingering, waiting for their moment in the limelight. That moment was now.
What if the power doesn’t go back on? Like ever?
What if this is like one of those movies or Netflix series where suddenly there’s no more electricity or grid, no more running water, chaos, looting, riots?
What if this truly is the beginning of the end?
I was surprised by how quickly these thoughts came to the surface. And then I wasn’t surprised at all, as recognition kicked in. These thoughts are not deeply buried fears left over from growing up during the Cold War where people had their bunkers and sixth months worth of rations; the school drills of hiding under your desks to survive the A bomb dropping (or were those just the earthquake drills?).
This contemporary fear just below the surface is part of living in the world today. That bomb-like boom from earlier in the evening, combined with yesterday’s 20 year anniversary of 9-11 could have set the stage for such dark thoughts, but there’s so much more at play here. We know the corona pandemic isn’t really going anywhere, as more variants pop up around the world. We know that climate change is causing extremely erratic weather resulting in floods, famine, fires, drought, climate refugees, and mass extinction of flora and fauna. We know that there are a growing number of despot governments with leaders as erratic as the weather. We know that our endless-growth economy is resulting in an untenable amount of CO2, methane and other gases being pumped into the atmosphere, which is causing the vast majority of that erratic weather, which is causing all of the floods and famine and fires and extinction and societal upheaval. We know that people are living in divisive bubbles of thought, that social media enforces these bubbles. We know we’re in trouble on so many levels. We know that we’re doing too little too late.
My husband arrived home to a darkened house and worry filled his mind. It’s so dark and quiet. Did something terrible happen? Then he found us with our candles and flashlights and phones. Then the lights went back on.