Seeing the light

Last week I had a power outage. The lights went out briefly a couple of times and then boom – they were out completely. I had no idea if it was just our building or if the neighbourhood had been affected too. A knock on my upstairs neighbour’s door yielded no response, so, rather than sit in the muted light, unable to access Wi-Fi , I ventured out into the shivery, grey day, to see what I could discover.

A few streets down, a woman confirmed that her power was out too, so I walked further south and did some grocery shopping on a street seemingly unaffected. When I returned home and there was still no power, I decided the best thing for it was to hop on the bike and go to the park to hang out with the birds. When I returned an hour later, the power had been restored.

I think what surprised me most about this incident was how anxious being without electricity made me feel, even in the middle of the day, especially not knowing how and when the outage would be addressed. We are so reliant on electricity, that we don’t even give it much thought until something goes wrong.

It’s interesting that Earth Hour last weekend, which asked people to turn their lights off for an hour in the evening, is observed as an event – so unusual is the idea of being without electricity, even for a short time. Even in our pandemic world, many people carried on unabated in lockdown through being connected virtually.

When the lights go out – especially during the day – we become more aware of the physical world which exists independent of our individually-created bubbles. It is an opportunity for us to slow down, unplug, and reconnect outside, and to function as people did for centuries in greater harmony with the cyclical rhythms of day and night.

We would all benefit from reducing our consumption and dependency on electricity. And it shouldn’t take a crisis – like a pandemic or a power outage, to be able to see the natural world as somewhere we can actively participate in and be a part of – for us to see the light of what is real and eternal all around us.

Cultivating care

My dear friend in England called me this week in a state. Earlier that day, while waiting for a train in an outdoor suburban station, he saw a teenage girl sitting with her feet dangling over the edge of the platform, clearly distressed. When he tried to talk her into moving back from the edge, instead, she jumped onto the tracks. A couple of women, alerted as to what was going on, leapt in and wrestled her back to the platform, while my friend and another man – most fortuitously wearing Hi-Vis pants – waved frantically at the train, which was now visibly arriving in the distance. Fortunately, the conductor became aware of the spectacle and slowed down, while the girl was brought back to safety.

My friend, probably still in shock, was concerned about whether he had done the right thing, or indeed had done enough, not having been the one to leap in to save the girl. Of course, I reassured him that his actions were extremely helpful, especially as they alerted others as to what was going on.

I had my own similar reservations this week, when, in less dramatic circumstances, I discovered a set of keys in the parking lot of a shopping plaza. I was in two minds as to whether to leave them for the owners to retrace their steps and find them, or to give them in at the supermarket, in the hope that they would have gone there or would think to ask inside. Another shopper reinforced this option, so I left the keys at the customer service and returned with a note, which I placed on the windshield of what I hoped was the right car.

I later agonized over whether I had done the right thing, and the truth is that sometimes you can never know, you can only try to do what you feel is right at the time. In some ways, the bigger issue is in harbouring the desire to do the right thing in the first place. We should all not only strive to do what’s right in any given scenario, but to also feel a powerful need to do so.

While we may not have innate superpowers to sweep in and rescue a person or bad situation, when we cultivate a deep sense of responsibility to one another, we can harness the energy to be ready and willing to act when the need arises. Our decisive actions can sometimes have life-changing, if not life-saving outcomes, and this is what makes us truly superhuman.

Universal help

I think we have all been moved by the heart-breaking scenes of the war in Ukraine, particularly of the legions of refugees fleeing their homes and sheltering in makeshift accommodation, their futures uncertain.

The outpouring of support from the world has been immediate and all widespread, with many different initiatives and ways of providing aid. It is truly admirable how we, as human beings, respond to crises with heartfelt love and support. I am always impressed by how locals drop everything and rally to help those in need – providing accommodation, transport and essential supplies.

 It is truly at the grassroots level that we can make a difference, which is why, in the midst of our attention concentrated on Ukraine, I would urge people to continue looking closer to home. There is suffering all around us – poverty in our communities, isolation amongst our neighbours. There are so many vulnerable people – homeless, or hungry or lonely or in need of a listening ear or particular types of assistance. Can we refocus our desire to help to hone in on those among us? There are so many ways we can give – with our time and skills through volunteering or by donating money to organizations that really do improve the lives of those around us.

I feel encouraged that we feel and connect with the suffering of others throughout the world and respond when their basic human needs are threatened or taken away. I think there are valid and valuable ways to help in these situations, but the world in our backyard needs us too. We are all prone to be vulnerable and thrown into a crisis in these very difficult times. Let’s be there for each other and looking out for one another, not just through heightened events, but in our everyday lives.

Homing in

Finding an apartment to rent is notoriously stressful and exhausting, especially with a deadline of moving out a previous place. Mercifully, there seem to be a lot of short-term furnished rentals on offer at the moment, but the properties vary wildly in appearance, condition and price. Then there’s all the schlepping to viewings, alongside the wearying ping-pong matches, pairing up the suitability of the place with your eligibility as a tenant.

Every time I rent a place – which is often, given my current transient lifestyle, I learn new things. As I’ve gotten especially good at making lists, here are the three main takeaways I’ve learned from my most recent rental venture:

First off, decide on two or three things that are non-negotiable and stick to them. No accommodation is ever likely to be perfect or tick every box, so choose what is essential – be it parking, or location or natural light, and make sure the apartment has them all. Worry about the other stuff later. Many structural or cosmetic issues can, within reason, be improved upon or personalized once the place is yours.

With your priorities in mind, be up front and transparent about your needs and expectations. I nearly didn’t take the place I’m in now until the issue of bike storage got sorted out. Matters can often be negotiated and agreed upon, especially if the landlord wants to take you on as a tenant.

Which leads me to my third point – be honest, mindful and pledge to look after the place to the best of your ability. After all, it’s going to be your home, for however, long. Honesty and sincerity will go a long way towards helping you to find and secure a place that’s right for you.

And while renting an apartment is, for all intents and purposes, a business transaction, it still involves a relationship between people, engendering trust. Let’s not commodify it on either side to ‘what can be got out of the deal’, but instead, let’s humanize the process through open and empathetic discussion and interactions. Shelter is a basic human need and we should all strive to help one another to acquire it with dignity, respect and understanding. Now, I’d best go unearth some more treasured belongings from my boxes. Good thing my computer was near the top of one. 😊