I’ve heard how trying these days are for those on the east coast who are without power, and my heart goes out to them! They are all eager to get back to having some control over their environment and restore the rhythms they were familiar with.
Our ancestors couldn’t have imagined how we have become accustomed to the availability of power on demand. But the fragility of our human-made environments is not-so-subtly accented by power outages, no matter what causes them.
Musing about how we create much of our own environments made me think how much electric lights have influenced my own sense of what a day is like. How different it must have been for anyone who lived before Thomas Edison gave us a way to light up the night without building a fire or lighting an oil lamp.
I remember long ago seeing a picture of Abraham Lincoln as a boy reading by the fireplace in that log cabin he lived in, and hearing from my teachers how we should admire that he chopped wood all day so that he could read at night. Now maybe the studious image or Abe was a bit romanticized, but it’s true that only three or four generations ago not just everyone could switch on a light on command. Much less a TV or computer or any of a myriad of electrical servants I have authority over.
Pre-Edison, the day was heralded by roosters and other animals who had a sense of the coming dawn. The sky that waited for sunrise was not taken for granted. Now, the shape of my days is different because light is accessible without having to wait for God’s movement of planets and suns. Once the clock radio tells me it’s time to begin my day, I just reach up and turn on my own indoor sun.
And so also my nights are different. Not so long ago, as nightfall approached, daytime busyness settled down considerably. Very few night meetings when wax or lamp oil resources were scarce. Evening entertainment usually meant someone had to go out in the dark. Some cities had oil lamps for some streets, but light in the nighttime wasn’t just everywhere. Mostly the streets were fearful places at night… still are in some parts. Wouldn’t moonlight have been valued differently than it is now?
Cloudless nights might have been glorious in a way most of the civilized world hardly knows today. The stars that I cannot see in my light polluted nights are still there of course. What would it be like to see them again without having to travel many miles for such a view?
What would it be like to applaud the sun rise each morning? What would it be like to sing the songs that go with the first rays of the sun, and the lighting of evening fires and lamps? In the beginning, the whole idea of days and nights belonged to God. Nowadays, in our own ways, we get to join in making the light and the dark, but that is a gift so easily taken for granted. Control of our environment and comfort is part of what helps us survive, but a gift nonetheless. I, for one, don’t want to lose the sense of wonder and gratitude for the rhythms of days and nights that are even more marvelous than electricity on command.