As many students in my graduating class remember painfully well, pre-enroll this semester meant a 6:55 AM alarm followed by a warning message that Student Center was down. A few hours later, as I was taking a quiz in my Psych class, the lights went off; across the hallway from the classroom where I was squinting my eyes in the dark to finish the test, someone got stuck in the elevator and was frantically ringing the bell for help. It was cloudy outside, but it wasn’t cold; the sky was heavy with leaden threats of rain. The power was restored after a couple of hours, but the sky remained heavy and dark and it didn’t get colder. It was April and we were only a month away from the end of classes, already projected towards next semester and deciding when we are going to wake up in the morning and what books we are going to read, and whether we will have enough time for breakfast and how long of a walk it will be to class and maybe we’ll learn another language and hopefully complete a minor and possibly leave time on Thursdays for lunch and attending guest lectures. And it seems so absurd to be planning these details, to think about the morning coffees of next semester and the books that we will finish that we haven’t yet started and the Monday quizzes that will ruin our Sunday nights; it seems unreasonable to plan our lives so minutely, and with such confidence, with the squareness of a schedule and the clear cut angles of a planner. Meanwhile we discover new passions, the sky turns blue again and its lead has to move elsewhere without ever leaving and a multitude of possibilities opens up, thrilling in its being terrifying. Yet we are here planning to have no classes on Fridays and to start late on Monday. It is absurd. And that is why it is important that the light went off.
I was in Uris Hall, and I thought that the rest of campus had been unaffected, that everywhere else elevators hadn’t become traps and students could count on something more powerful than the dim natural light that filtered through the windows and the heavy clouds. But then I found out that the power outage was campus wide, and possibly town wide – and I wondered what it means to run out of power, and what happens when the light goes off. Today the last week of classes of the semester started, and the sky was heavy with leaden, again. It rained this time, getting in the way of morning runs and drivers of overcrowded buses. Next semester seems already planned – but then, it never is. It’s like when the light goes off: even when in a familiar classroom, sitting at the usual desk, we are completely lost when there is a black out, and we squint our eyes to find direction in a known place. And there is something beautiful about this, and charged with possibilities of new angles and chiaroscuro. When the power is out, we need candles – other resources, problems turned into the romanticism of wax and a wavering light. My hope for next year is to find an alternative to a blinding artificial light, to have to light candles, to see (or not see) everything as novel, as unfamiliar in the best sense of the term – thrilling and terrifying.