[This is Part 2 of a 2-part blog post. Part 1 is here.]
Even though there was nothing I could do to help the people who were affected by the tragedy, I thought there were plenty of things I could get done for myself, even without an internet connection. I could read and write and do the kinds of things I always think I should get to, but never do – like going through my clothes and possessions for things I can donate.
Much to my surprise and consternation, nothing felt right. I usually love reading and writing, but I found, paradoxically, that the absolute silence was making it difficult to concentrate. Even the usual neighborhood sounds were missing. No one was hopping into their cars and driving off because there was nowhere to go.
Having no sounds, and no moving images from a TV or even a cell phone, was really boring. I’d say that it was also depressing if it did not seem so shameful to complain about silence when other people had lost homes and lives.
Four days after I lost my internet connection, I heard from a neighbor that a McDonald’s in the next town south had internet access, and it was now possible to get to that town. I drove around that town, and walked the main street, thinking that if one place had a connection, others would, too. But they didn’t. So McDonald’s it was.
Soon after I got home that day, my internet was back and so was my cable. The comforting sounds of music and TV were available again. For the first time, I could read about the big news that others had been absorbing for days. I could watch the videos of the events surrounding the mudslides.
I still had no mail, still had to boil water, and still could not drive into Santa Barbara. To teach my class in Santa Barbara, I drove to a town in the opposite direction – the only direction in which the roads were open – to catch a train. To get to work or school, hundreds of others were doing the same the same thing.
Just having internet and TV, though, almost made my everyday life feel normal again. The day after my internet came back, I woke up and turned on my computer, as I always do. I read emails, started catching up on the news, and did some work.
Suddenly I realized that I had been sitting there for hours, working in silence. Once I knew that I could break the silence at any moment by turning on the TV or Pandora, I no longer needed to.