Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December reflections and a long harsh winter

This has been a December of many firsts for me or feels that way at least. Being in Toronto all through December. Then, experiencing an ice storm with a protracted power outage which forced shut half the city, it's shops and restaurants included, during the busiest time of the year for all retailers. Another first is working through the holidays with an oddly busy work schedule marked with deadlines and little time to clean and get caught up before the onset of New Year. Probably also one of my first Decembers away from Uttara who either visited or saw me visit her at this time every year.

Also for the very first time I am taking the malevolence of winter in stride. Forbearing and reflecting on the devastation it has left in its wake. We have birch and maple trees split in half and several other trees bent over under the weight of the ice in formations, ready to snap at any moment. The icy cold temperatures are threatening to drop to a -30 degree low. With no let up we will be gazing at glistening trees, like the ones on Christmas greeting cards, for several days to come, and a lot of stumps in the spring. After all this is only just the official start of winter.

The power outage was not catastrophic for us. We had hot water, stoves and fireplaces all fired by gas. Also the hush around the house with no TV or devices was merciful. I had 3G on phone and iPad to indulge an online craving or two, send and receive text messages and make emergency phone calls. I set out to make hot chayote stew (Poricha kozhambu) and when I realized I could not grind coconut for it in my blender, substituted with coconut milk, cumin and pepper. I ended up with a fantastic hot soup which we had with quinoa and dhal and it was wonderfully comforting. In fact, I thought we had all we needed. Really electricity was an indulgence we could do very well without. We had flashlights to find our stuff in dark corners and enough bright sunshine to do all that we needed to during the day - reading, cooking, decluttering. I even thought that we should endeavour to live without power 1 day a month to do our bit for energy savings and wean ourselves off our dependence. The day without power was marked by a simplicity that came with having no choice! It felt like we could have gone on for days replicating the lives of our grandmothers, starting with filter coffee in the morning. We got power the same night and so did not have to find out! Also our food could remain in our fridges and freezers (far too much of it, I realized, and have vowed to clear everything out and not buy for a few weeks!)

When I got to work I was less insular and felt quite uncomfortable for having been so smug and even mocking of our need for electric power. My colleagues related experiences of hardship they faced living in high rises where the water was turned off to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting, leaving them with no water as well. With no elevators, their Christmas turkeys and all other frozen food had to be rescued, carried down flights of stairs to friends' fridges and freezers. People with pregnant spouses and aging parents spoke of their challenges caring for loved ones who could not themselves walk down flights of stairs. On the news, we heard stories of trees falling over homes, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal inside to stay warm and other such desperate tales. There are people still without power and after one day the novelty must have worn off.

Given harsh weather conditions, our lives here are generally constructed around the availability of power so much so that we cannot imagine living without it. We are gorging on it like at a buffet table because no one is telling us to consume less. Our gas and hydro are still not prized at their real cost. For eg, we are looking at tapping the oil sands now, at the cost of polluting our vast water resources by fracking. Even subliminally, we are not getting the messages that we should use less. We live today with the mentality that the availability of power will continue ad infinitum - until an ice catastrophe strikes and we wake up to our dependence. The wonderful thing about us humans, though, is that we quickly adapt. We can take on a lot and find work- arounds. So I guess we will, when power is not so abundant!

We also show our best selves under great hardship. I witnessed peace and calm and acts of kindness everywhere. Several of our friends offered us their homes and plied us with food. Others opened up their fridges for friends to store perishables. The busy intersections with no traffic lights flowed through smoothly even without cops in attendance. And the spirit of the season was visible everywhere in human acts of compassion.

I wish everyone a warm and happy Christmas with loved ones. I wish us all the strength to get through our challenges including the ones brought on by a long harsh winter.

Here are a list of 13 things mentally strong people do not do! Do you agree?

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