August 27, 2009

When the lights go out…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships at 2:05 am by dinaheng

Five kids were playing in the family room at Grandma’s house when the sound of thunder approached. Moments later, torrential rains fell outside the window and lightning began to flash. A sister and I began shutting down the air conditioning, television and computers.

The kids, oblivious to the storm outside, continued their game of rolling balls to each other across a table, laughing and screaming. Then the power went out.dinah-eng-21

Everyone rushed to the windows and watched as Mother Nature cleaned the landscape. Hurricane season is part of life in Houston, and last year’s Hurricane Ike is still fresh in people’s minds. I wasn’t here last September, but three sisters and our parents went nearly two weeks without electricity.

“The power better come on soon,” my mother said. “I don’t want to throw all the food out of the refrigerator again.”

Over the next hour, one by one, family members began arriving, bringing contributions of  food for dinner. The rain ended, but the lights remained off. As we dined by candlelight, throwing open the windows to let a breeze in, a sense of comfort emerged from the discomfort of the hot summer night.

My mom and the sisters sat talking around the table after dinner. A brother-in-law took the oldest nephew to the backyard to take a battery out of a car. The other kids played in the driveway as neighbors began moving outside to catch the night breeze.

The sound of crickets replaced the noise of the television. The power of electricity was replaced by the power of family.

No matter how far apart family members live, it’s good to know that we can always count on each other. Four years ago, when Hurricane Rita threatened the Texas coast, I was on my way back to Los Angeles from a trip to the East Coast. I had scheduled a stopover to visit family in Houston, and ended up flying in just before the storm hit.

As the city hunkered down for that storm, everyone took on different tasks, gathering supplies, shoring up houses, and taking care of the kids for three families. We may not be the kind of sisters who talk frequently about family issues, but we do know how to mobilize for storms.

In a way, that’s what families tend to do. We may argue, voice differing opinions, and gossip about each other, but when it comes to survival, we instinctively know that safety lies in working together.

By 9:30 p.m., the lights on the opposite side of the street were on, but the houses on our side were still dark. Two of the sisters, who live half an hour away, had electricity at their places and offered their guest rooms to the rest of us.

The supply of candles had dimmed, and we were down to one working flashlight. Clearly, being prepared for a blackout was not top of mind this week.

My mom and I decided to go with one sister, while four others opted to stay at Grandma’s house and wait for the electricity to come back on. Luckily, power was restored four hours later.

It wasn’t a hurricane, but the storm was a reminder that life can change in a heartbeat. No matter how much you try to anticipate problems, it’s the unexpected things that get you.

Just one of the ways Mother Nature teaches us to appreciate the value of family.


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