ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

THE MIRACLE OF THE FLIPPED SWITCHES

I’m feeling very righteous this morning.  Our family’s carbon footprint today has been a dainty size “0.”  I’m expecting a congratulatory e-mail from Al Gore at any moment.

I should probably mention that we didn’t actually choose to be so environmentally cautious today.  I guess we would be more righteous if we had.  But sometime in the wee hours of the morning a vehicle took out a utility pole not far from our home, and from that moment to this we have been without power.

Thankfully, my wife Anita has a built-in alarm clock in her brain, so she got up at 5:30 just like she does every morning – even the mornings that she can sleep in.  She padded around the house for a few minutes, checking things out and finally awakened me to report that the power was out.

“Oh,” I mumbled as I rolled over in bed.  “OK.”

You can think of that as laziness on my part.  I prefer to think of it as courage in crisis.

Besides, Anita had everything under control.  She had checked the . . . you know . . . that little box where all the switches are that control the power to different parts of the house?  She had checked that (and you wonder why she prefers to handle this stuff herself).  She had called the power company – that’s how she found out about the vehicularized power pole.  She had even figured out how to start our gas stove and make some breakfast.

It’s almost as if she expected me to roll over in bed and say “Oh, OK.”  And maybe she did.  When you have lived with someone for nearly 31 years, there are few surprises.

The only serious problem Anita encountered in her morning preparations was her hair.  Her hair is styled in such a way that she really needs a blow dryer to make it poof where it’s supposed to poof.  And no matter how much our teenagers Jon and Beth and I huffed and puffed, we couldn’t make the poof happen.  So Anita was kind of stuck as far as her hair was concerned.

For me, the obstacle was sound.  I’m used to listening to the radio as I go through my morning preparations, and so it was disconcerting to shower and shave in dark silence.  I had to actually concentrate on what was going on inside my brain, and believe me, that can be a frightfully empty place.  So I got ready as quickly as I could, flipped on my computer to check my e-mail (oops! No computer!), threw a few towels into the dryer (oops! No dryer!), grabbed my toast (oops!  No toast!) and jumped in the car to head to work.

Except the garage door wouldn’t open.  Those same garage door openers that can be so wonderfully inconvenient in times of inclement weather can also be amazingly inconvenient when the power is off.  It took me a few minutes to figure out how to open the door without electrical power (actually, it was Jon who figured it out, and who pushed the door open and held it up while I backed out – sort of a Flintstonian version of a garage door opener, now that I think about it).

The power was on at work, and to me every flipped switch was suddenly a wonder.  Lights!  Air conditioning!  Computer!  Copy machine!  Pencil sharpener!  Massage recliner! (OK, I don’t really have a massage recliner at my work, but it would be a wonder if I did, wouldn’t it?)  You flip a switch and without even thinking about it, great stuff happens.  Most of the time.  In fact, almost all of the time.  That’s why it’s such an extraordinary thing when you flip a switch and nothing happens.

We live in a world of miracles.  Every day we are surrounded by technology and inventions that make our lives simpler, happier and more comfortable.  And we don’t even think about them until, for one reason or another, they’re not there anymore.

So take a look around you.  Pause and appreciate the switches you flip – miraculously mindlessly – every day.  Offer a silent word of thanks to the inventors, technicians, operators and maintenance workers who make those miracles happen.

Daily.  Wonderfully.  Righteously.

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— © Joseph Walker

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