in which we sing the praises of the low-stakes emergency

Posted on: February 9, 2013

Many years ago my then-boss and I stood in the parking lot behind the building we worked in, taking a break to smoke and talk about anarchy. Said boss was of the genial sort of fellow who upon moderately close inspection reveals himself to be little more than a self-aggrandizing nitwit, which, while that would certainly be tiresome today, was a fully age-appropriate novelty a decade and half ago. And so, despite his rather pedestrian view on the banality of ties, I did quite enjoy our conversations, Joe’s and mine, and can recall them fondly today without wondering what that might say about me and my development as a person.

While I don’t remember all of the details of the anarchy conversation, I do remember the broad strokes being that Joe was Pro and I was Con, and while Joe painted a pretty picture of the freedom to do whatever you want, I really hung it on the wall by pointing out that the lack of order would apply just as equally to those with darker impulses, and once you give those guys free reign, I would be the first to die. If for no other reason than because it takes me an unbelievably long time to realize when someone who seems nice is in reality a self-aggrandizing nitwit, making it seem unlikely I would be any quicker identifying an actually harmful entity. You take away the rules, and I immediately become the dumbest zebra at the watering hole.

The lethality of total chaos, however, does not prevent me from enjoying the occasional controlled societal breakdown. On the contrary, the low-level havoc created by a brief suspension of the rules of order is, strangely, an environment in which I thrive. The need for a leader suits my natural inclinations toward bossy know-it-all-ness, while the temporary nature of the leadership position ensures that no one will have an opportunity to discover that I have no idea what I’m talking about.

The blackout that hit Cambridge back in November, for example, was exactly the sort of moment in which I shine. Being in the right place at the right time made me one of the first to be informed that the Illustrious Libraries were to be closed, and I rushed back to my primary library location, bursting with the importance of being the bearer of vital news. Once arrived, though I did first inform the ranking members of the library staff, they allowed me to inform our users of the situation. Which, not to toot my own horn (on the internet? the scandal!) I did with such aplomb that those users left in the library greeted the conclusion of my announcement with a round of applause.

Thusly justly fêted, I made my way home through the darkened streets of Cambridge, illuminated only the headlights of the cars that stretched, bumper to bumper, unmoving along the length of Mass Ave, enjoying the company not only of Devin, whose weekend had just gotten an unexpectedly early start, but of hundreds of others who recognized that without power the conveniences of modern transportation had become a burden, and that, in these reduced circumstances, the people with the most power were those who could do for themselves.

However, while the unexpected nature of the citywide blackout is part of its allure, it is, at best, a fickle beast. Its unpredictability is what makes it so welcome, yet occurring only once in the 2 decades I’ve been here makes it an unreliable source for the rush of self-worth that accompanies the exaggerated competence of laughing in the face of little-to-no danger.

Fortunately, winter comes every year, as does the thrill of a potential weather-related emergency. As a person who is not even moderately outdoorsy, I recognize that my opportunities for nature-related victories are limited : I’m not going to hike the Appalachian Trail, or scale Mount Everest, or purposely put myself in a position that could result in losing my mind in the wilderness or having to amputate my own arm. Nature and I have, for the most part, reached a detente in our conquer-or-be-conquered relationship because, up against elemental anarchy, I know that, for the most part, I would lose.

But when Nature brings the fight to me, when the whole city – yay, even the whole state – decides to back down, that’s when I have to step up. Climbing snow drifts and tumbling down the other side for the purpose only of ending up with a vegan cupcake may not be on par with doing so to find shelter or escape from a sabre-toothed tiger. But when the populace at large must stay indoors or risk being snowed upon, it is an act of heroism simply to walk out one’s front door, and I am the hero for those times. And it is with great gladness and pride that I share the plowed but still snow-covered streets, closed to vehicular traffic, with my fellow, foot-traveling champions.


3 Responses to "in which we sing the praises of the low-stakes emergency"

I always knew you had it in you, Amy.

Thanks, Jamie! I appreciate your faith in me.

[…] believe I went on record not too long ago as in favor of the chaos and temporary societal breakdown that tend to accompany […]

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