It is last Friday, 3:15 pm, and our weekend guests are due to begin arriving anytime. The sun is shining and it is a beautiful afternoon. Jackie K., Sr. Barb and Marge are trying to wrap up a few tasks while waiting for the guests to arrive, and Dave J. is here working on the books. Suddenly, we hear a series of booms outside. Inside, the lights go off, computers go dark, and landline phones are dead. Tracy wanders up front from the Residents’ quarters to confirm – our power is out.
Now, thankfully power outages are not frequent events here, but this is not our first experience with a power outage, either. We head for the storeroom to gather flashlights and replace batteries where necessary. Then Jackie K. gets on her phone to check the power company’s website to report the outage and see if there is an estimate of when power will be restored. Initial estimate is 2 hours – that’s not too bad. We’ll have daylight for most of the wait time, most guests will arrive between 6 and 7, and their sessions do not start until 7. Plenty of time! Jackie K., Sr. Barb, Tracy and Marge sit down for a meeting we didn’t have time for when the phones and computers were working, so there was a silver lining.
The two hours pass and it is starting to get dark. Power company website now says “Reassessing” the estimate, a nice way of saying, “Ooops! We were a bit too optimistic.” A few guests have filtered in by now, and after having driven up to a dark building, they were relieved to know we were open and they were here on the right weekend. Conversations are about how our experience harkens back to the friars of 100 years ago when they had minimal electric power from a generator, but we are all thinking, “Let there be light, please!” Tracy decides it is time to start getting candles out and light them. Marge distributes flashlights in strategic locations to serve as night lights.
Eventually, the website updates with distressing news: estimated repair time is now 7 pm. Sadly, that estimate does not last long before it is changed to 9 pm. Oh, my! This could get interesting! By 6:30 pm, the group’s leadership realizes it needs to come up with a plan B. Recent arrivals report that lights are on downtown – the outage seems to be from St. Anthony’s and east. One of the group’s leaders tries calling St. Mary’s (since the pastor is one of the scheduled teachers) but reaches only an answering machine. Luckily, within a few minutes, Fr. Joe arrives and offers the church as an alternate meeting location.
By now most of the guests have arrived but have scattered throughout the building – some in meeting areas, some in the chapel for evening prayer, and some in their rooms. When prayer concludes, those in the chapel begin to spread the word that Plan B is to meet at St. Mary’s, and the exodus begins. The group is due to return at 9:30 for night prayer in the chapel, and hopefully by then prayer will not be by flashlight.
About 8:40 pm, our prayers were finally answered and the lights came back on. Now our task is to turn on hallway lights, collect flashlights, extinguish candles and get ready to welcome our guests back. Next step is to check to make sure all the necessary systems came back on line, too – the computers and circulating pumps for the boilers, the internet and WiFi, the elevator, and our workstation computers. Luckily, all seemed to be in working order and our five and one-half hour adventure comes to an end!
For the blessings of darkness that make us appreciate the light, and the blessings of flashlights, candles, teamwork, helpful neighbors and dedicated repair workers, we say Deo Gratias!