Learning in the Dark

Excerpts from a Chapel speech given by Chaplain Bobby Fisher – 12.9.11 –

We should have been more prepared, but we weren’t.  I think we somewhat naively figured that it wouldn’t really be our problem – that we would somehow miss the worst of it.

We were wrong.  And just an hour or two into the front edge of Hurricane Irene’s arrival into northeast Connecticut during the last week of August, we lost power and light.  As many of you may remember, we went five full days and nights until power was finally restored, and we could fully prepare to welcome you all back in our usual “power-full” way.

But now that we have entered the darkest days of the year, and as we prepare for another Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols, my mind wraps back to those strange five days and what I call “lessons from the dark.”

We must’ve been completely intoxicated by the safety and comfort of our little lives here because all we had for light when it all went down were several tiny (and mostly burned) glass votives and a flashlight that wasn’t working despite changing the batteries countless times.   No oil lamps, no headlamps, no big serious candles.

During that first day, we scavenged up more candles so that by nightfall we could navigate the darker corners of our little house.  But I realized that the way we spoke to each other changed in the dark.  Without much light, we all needed each other more — for direction, for comfort and assurance; for entertainment.  We read together.  We told stories to each other.  We strategized for what would need to get done when the sun came back in the new day.  It was all very primitive, and for a little while, it was as exciting as it was utterly annoying.  Without being too dramatic about it, we became light for one another.

We began to be more careful with everything, including each other.  We boiled our water and brewed our coffee the old way, but it was like I tasted coffee again for the first time.  We rationed our food supply, we rationed our phones, and we ate our perishables first, not knowing how many days we would have to go.

We thought more about what we ate and when we ate.  We ate every meal together.  And we made the most of daylight, so that when darkness fell again, we were ready.  We kept each other close in a way that felt more tender and fragile and sensitive to each other’s lives.

Fire pits burned in backyards all around this campus, like lighthouses that gave direction to anyone lost at sea.  People found the company of others at night, always around the light of a fire.  Families gathered and shared resources, food, and laughs.

I thought a lot that week about power.  I became fascinated, frustrated, and humbled by how little control I have over the power that generates and energizes so much of my everyday existence.  It left, and I could do nothing to get it back.  I felt overly dependent and small and somewhat insignificant in a way that I had not felt in a long while, if ever.  But during that time, the darkness (of which there is plenty around here!) became less frightening to my family and me; we got used to it, and we learned how to move in it and see by the light of the sky and the stars and whatever lights we could carry with us.

The darkness from the storm made me less arrogant and self-assured and more in-tuned to my family and friends.  We were all trying to find our way together, surprised that we had to endure this for such a time and nervously hoping each day would bring back our light.

At the end of the week, when our power was finally restored, we all celebrated with hot showers and home-cooked meals in our well-lit kitchens – as if it was just a bad dream.

Thousands of people stayed in the dark long after our lights came back on.  We felt extremely grateful for everything – a lesson from the darkness that I have carried with me as a light!

As I look back on it now, standing safely again in this early winter season of light and hope, expectancy and gifts, birth and homecoming, I see the wonder of it all a little clearer.

It was a strange gift of sorts.  Strange because it was inconvenient and annoying and caused a fair amount of extra work for all of us.  For most, the only true gift came when the power was finally restored!   But for me (and I think for my family, too), the darkness brought us the opportunity to see differently.  And somewhere in the darkness of that somewhat surreal week, all my worry turned into wonder for a little while.

I’d like to extend gratitude, on behalf of all of us, to these four students Esther Ahn ’12, Alex Adams ’13, Candace Lu ’14, and Nicky Park ’12 for working hard and working together to bring that amazing arrangement of Carol of the Bells to us: That’s a gift!!

About Pomfret School

Founded in 1894, Pomfret is an independent co-educational college preparatory boarding and day school for 350 students in grades 9 through 12 and postgraduate, located on a scenic 500 acre campus in Northeastern Connecticut.
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