There's an episode of the early '60s tv show The Twilight Zone that is permanently etched in my brain. I don't actually recall most of the details, but the story concerned a man who loved reading and for some reason never had time, or access to books, or something, to read. The story line set up his annoyance at whatever issues stood between him and his pleasure in reading.
At the end of the program, some awful thing, maybe a nuclear bomb, occurred, leaving him the sole human survivor. Miraculously, the books in the library had emerged unscathed as well. Nirvana!! Nobody to put demands on him, all the books and time to read them he could wish for!!
But then his glasses fell off his face and shattered... glasses he required to be able to see the words on the pages... and all the opticians blown away by the bomb.... What I clearly remember is the look on his face as he realized his fondest wish had come true yet remained beyond his grasp.
Obviously the point my youthful (at the time) brain took away from that story was to be careful what you wish for, and an appreciation for how dependent we become on the progress society makes. For every great step forward - like eyeglasses, or computers, or electricity delivered to our homes - there is a price to be paid in increasing dependence on someone else's skill and resources to give us access to those advances.
I'm thinking about that today because a last blast of winter is coming our way, with rain turning to sleet that's scheduled to become some number of inches of snow. In my 1920s neighborhood with lots of trees and overhead power lines to become coated with ice, rain turning to sleet generally means impending power outage, which past experience tells us means up to a week before crews can make repairs and get the houses on our street back online.
Earlier this week, we installed a new tankless water heater. This technological wonder heats water as it's consumed, so that you don't burn gas for the 23 or so hours a day it's not needed. It also allows a blissfully long shower, which of course negates the gas savings. But that's a function of discipline, not access, and is a story for another time.
So what does any of this have to do with the guy with broken glasses in the Twlight Zone episode?
We know from past experience how to make it through a week-long power outage in relatively good spirits. Life without tv and the computer is survivable, and we've got candles, matches, flashlights, batteries, a fireplace, books, battery-powered radio and alarm clocks.
Our saving grace in past power outages was, no matter how cold and dark it was in the house, we could always cheer ourselves up with a shower. Limited though it might have been by the function of our pathetic little hot water heater, at least it was warm.
Sadly, no more.
So if the power goes out this weekend, I'll be thinking about progress, technology, that guy in the middle of the library with broken glasses... and the luxury of a hot shower, so close, yet unattainable.