After nearly 15 years of looking at the bright side as publisher of the Good News Network, I instinctively knew over the last 5 days that no matter how much hardship was thrown at me, it would only make things worse to complain. With each mishap or misfortune, celebration was warranted because inevitably “something good” showed up.
On Friday, my husband and I embarked upon that most detestable of all home improvement projects, re-painting a room. I dreaded the thought of this room in particular – my home office – because it contained more than a decade of assorted office supplies and piles of paper work stored in drawers, filing cabinets and cupboards. Even if I were to hire someone to do the painting, I’d still have to be the one to sort through all the stuff hidden in the 12×13 room with cedar closet.
As I thumbed through the documents — some going back to parenting and creative pursuits pre-dating the Good News Network– I was filled with appreciation, seeing proof of my years of dedication to our kids, family, friends, and the development of my own spiritual and artistic sensibilities.
After the contents of the room were finally emptied into another room, we purchased our paint. The sturdy walls of tongue-in-groove knotty-pine had been painted dull yellow, probably in the 1970’s. Primer would be needed to cover the accumulation of crayon, dirt and grime. Everyone liked the idea of dark brown paint, offset by a fresh white ceiling.
Paint experts from the hardware store recommended a blue/gray tinted primer to make easier the transition to brown. After we got home and began the work, the mishaps began. A partially filled paint tray tipped over from atop the ladder while I watched in horror from across the room. The paint soaked into the old dirty carpet, but a new rug had been ordered so no harm done.
I soon realized that I’d forgotten that our earlier plan was to use the ‘white’ primer on the ceiling, so we needed to return to the store, which slowed our progress. But with temperature outside registering nearly one hundred degrees with 100 percent humidity, I said out loud, “As long as our air conditioner continues working, we have nothing to worry about.”
That evening, our paint brushes soaking, with only fifteen percent of the painting done, a massive storm rampaged through Virginia, Maryland and three other states, ripping out trees and power lines. Three million people were plunged into darkness, marking the largest such black-out in history and the end of our air conditioning.
By the next day our house had become mighty hot and our toilets full. We live in a wooded neighborhood with a water supply derived from a well powered by electricity. I immediately saw the silver lining: The trees bring shade, so our home was fully 8-10 degrees cooler than suburban streets, and we live on a lake. We started hauling water up the hill for our bathrooms and kitchen.
By the second day our teens were scattering to friends’ homes that were unaffected by the outage. Having recognized an opportunity to use someone’s working toilet, I went into a house I’d never entered before, though I’d dropped my daughter there dozens of times. Its owner, Tamara, is a lovely lady, a mom my age whom I immediately liked upon meeting 13 years ago when our daughters bonded at preschool. That day was her birthday.
In her kitchen, friendliness and cheer bubbled over as the girls watched us chat. (I sneaked away to use her toilet, none the wiser as to how lucky I felt at the timing of our visit.) I visited for over an hour, meeting her longtime boyfriend and hearing excellent news about her rehabilitated, beloved son.
On our second full day of painting the room’s old-fashioned textured ceiling with its thousands of ridges running the full length of it, and the edges of all the walls, and every deep crevice in between each board that ran floor-to-ceiling, I began to realize that this was going to take a lot longer than originally planned. We couldn’t repeat this entire performance (layering2 brown coats over the first gray coat) in a room this hot, with only a toaster-oven size window for ventilation. Blue-gray suddenly became the perfect wall color. I laughed to myself, satisfied with the notion of “a more cheerful” appearance (than brown) for the new office, and an end to this tyranny of fumes. Funny, because I’d earlier voiced my wish for a comfortable seat in that office for relaxing with a book or document, and we had a big blue armchair in another room that would match nicely with the new wall color. My gratitude grew, unwilted by the heat.
At the end of a long day, so sweaty but unable to use our shower, we jumped into swim suits and dove into the warm lake. It’s something we rarely do anymore, now that our kids are grown. More gratitude, as the fresh smell of the lake entered my nostrils and my skin turned soft.
The next day, after finished the painting, erasing every trace of 1970’s yellow, I went for another swim, rubbing off the blue-gray flecks from my fingers. Tired of eating food just to keep them from spoiling, we went out to a fancy restaurant for dinner.
I thinnk the worst of the outage was not being able to update the Good News Network website from any local wifi café. My trusty laptop happened to be with the Apple Store for repair this month. By Monday, though, I’d begun to look at options for trying to get online and file some good news for the loyal subscribers.
I finally found a friend who was able to lend me her laptop. Not only was I able to let subscribers know why there’d been no good news posted, but that girlfriend, an avid camper, thought of lending us a battery-operated fan, which proved immensely helpful at night when we tried to sleep over the next few muggy nights. Donna lives nearby, but we never seem to take the time to just meet and enjoy each other’s company.
Today began — the sixth day without electricity and running water, with another delicious cup of coffee, made in a European press with boiling water from our propane camp stove. (I cooked a delicious pot roast on that stove last night using potatoes, carrots, beets and chuck roast.) I normally just have brewed coffee which is not nearly as rich.
Today is the 4th of July. I’m living like those men and women in the original thirteen colonies: Up at sunrise, carrying water, boiling water, writing on paper, eating fresh food, I am truly independent.
We should take seriously the pursuit of happiness. (It doesn’t just happen; you need to make it happen every day.) Experiences this week proved that if you look for the bright side, you will surely find it – even without internet, TV, running water or air conditioning.
On this Independence Day, we will party like it’s 1776!
[UPDATE: Just as we were cheering the huge fireworks display in the darkness above the lake — thanks to our kids, their friends and neighbors — we saw a sudden welcome sight: Our power came back on, which got the loudest cheer of all.]