We had a bit of weather in Steubenville.
It started Wednesday night with rain that washed much of the old snow away. When I woke up on Thursday it was still raining, and then it got colder. The water slowly froze as it struck any surface: grass, trees, cars, all were glazed like cakes. It was beautiful, if inconvenient. Afetr awhile I didn’t hear precipitation at all, and thought it had stopped, but it hadn’t.
For a moment it snowed. The snow was beautiful clean white over the muddy gray ice on the sidewalks and roads. Then it was ice, ice everywhere, tak-tak-tak-tak-tak against the window panes, tik-tik-tik against the porch roof. And the sun went down, and the ice increased.
The lights started to flicker; I cringed. Our new furnace is gas but the thermostat is electric and so is the stove. We’d be without both if the power went out.
People who were children in the Charismatic Renewal don’t do well in situations like this. My family was afflicted with the belief that natural disasters were punishments from God, which led to some comical events. Besides that, my childhood was haunted by prophesies of cataclysms that would destroy the world as we knew it, satisfying God’s wrath and serving all the selfish pagans right. The worst of the cataclysms was called the “Three Days of Darkness.” Charismatics relished the thought of the Three Days of Darkness. They thought it would begin at any time. There was a letter circulated in our groups, written by some mystic or other, which said that God was about to black out the sun for three whole days of unprecedented chaos and horror in order to punish sinners. There would be no natural light. Electricity and even fire would cease to work, except for blessed beeswax candles conveniently available for sale. Demons would wander the streets wreaking havoc. People would die of fear, if the demons didn’t get them first. When those three days came, and they were coming at any minute, we would all have to lock ourselves indoors. We weren’t to look out the window for any reason. We weren’t to answer the door, even though it would sound like our family and loved ones were outside screaming for mercy, begging to come in, because that would really be the demons outside. If we let them in, they’d murder us. After the Three Days of Darkness would come a Chastisement that would somehow be worse. After a Chastisement, the triumph of the Immaculate Heart and the onset of an “era of peace.” But who, exactly, would survive the Three Days of Darkness was a bit of an open question.
The people I grew up with believed in this sort of thing. They really did. And they told it to their children, or talked about it in front of them, and we listened. We took it all in, as children do.
I am still afraid of the Three Days of Darkness.
Online, the news was building up story after story of power outages around the tri-state area. I saw videos of transformers blowing in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in West Virginia. Fires from down power lines set up columns of smoke. The sheriff issued a level one emergency and then a level two; finally a level three, the most severe. All roads were closed except to emergency vehicles.
When I looked out the back window, our lilac bush was bent down like a weeping willow, all glassy and slick with ice. And still it came down.
The blackouts continued.
Ten percent of homes were without power in Washington county, Pennsylvania. Nearly fifty percent of homes were without power in Hancock County, West Virginia, across the river. Between thirty and sixty percent of homes were without power in the chimney of West Virginia altogether. Weirton Medical Center was running only on generators. Between twenty and thirty percent were without power right here in Jefferson County.
I saw that the lights were going out near the community college and over by Trinity Hospital. They went out in Brady Estates, just a mile away. They were out on the fancifully named Sunset Boulevard where the grocery store is.
It seemed like only a matter of time before our street followed suit. I wondered if we had any candles in the house, and if they were beeswax.
My family was relatively calm in the face of the Three Days of Darkness, all things considered. We’d read the prophecy. I don’t think we thought it wasn’t true. I don’t remember a single prophecy, all my days in the Charismatic Renewal, that we came out and declared wasn’t true. Doing that might be considered Blasphemy of the Spirit. We believed everything. My mother did express the opinion that the chaos might be triggered by a “nuclear event.” I was scared to death, but said nothing about it. Others were much more excited. Since I left the Charismatic Renewal I’ve met people who grew up with no plans at all for the future, because they didn’t expect to live into adulthood. They thought the Three Days of Darkness would destroy everything, and we’d have to lock ourselves inside and not answer the door even if our families and loved ones knocked and screamed for help.
That was the worst part, for me: the thought of people I loved screaming. Maybe it would be my grandfather, a lapsed Catholic. Maybe it would be my best friend Julia who watched television shows I wasn’t allowed to watch. Perhaps it would be my bad cousins whom my mother said were “too worldly” or my fun Protestant uncle who took us swimming. Those were the kind of people who might be impious enough to ignore a prophecy and go outside during the Three Days of darkness, and then they’d be trapped with the demons. And I wouldn’t know whether it was really them or a demon impersonating them. I’d have to obey the Virgin Mary, stay inside, and let them suffer regardless.
At my house, the wifi quietly died, but the lights stayed on. I checked my phone for updates since I couldn’t keep refreshing the page on my computer. I checked in in the Buy Nothing group, where people go to ask for help if they need to borrow a weed eater or for somebody to bring them groceries for the weekend, and where other people go to offer clothes and furniture they’re getting rid of. That’s when I found out how bad it was: power was out all over, with my house in a little sheltered island. Maybe it was because LaBelle is so close to campus, the City is careful to keep our power lines new. Maybe it was because there are so few trees on this block. Maybe the house was made out of blessed wax. Somehow, the power stayed on.
I started to run the vacuum and put things away. I tore up boxes to put out for the trash. I tore up junk mail.
The freezing rain fell harder and faster.
The trouble with being raised Charismatic and now being something else, is that it hurts to pray. I still practice Catholicism. I am still convinced that there is a God, and He does listen when you talk. But the prayers most Catholics blurt out unthinking when they’re scared and want to feel that God’s presence make me panic. I hate the Rosary, for example, because it makes me think of Marian Apparitions, prophesies, mystics having visions of cataclysms– those terrible Three Days of Darkness.
I started muttering the Lorica of Saint Patrick.
I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit Heaven,
the glorious sun’s lifegiving way,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks
the stable earth, the deep salt sea
around the old eternal rocks.
I knew, on a practical level, that it wasn’t the Three Days of Darkness. I was morally certain of that. If we were unlucky it might be the beginning of a few days without electricity, but it wasn’t the Three Days of Darkness. Three days of ordinary dark, perhaps, but not the prophesied Three Days of Darkness. People in town would suffer, and maybe some would die, but not like that. Not in some horrendous cataclysmic way, just in the ordinary way. And that was bad enough.
I hate the thought of people suffering.
I don’t want people to suffer.
I would rather stop people from suffering than be safe.
I would rather stop people from suffering than be right.
I would rather stop people from suffering than obey the Virgin Mary. I would rather open the door in case it’s my relative or my friend, someone I love and can help, even if it means being killed by a demon. I would rather have compassion and take the consequences, than lock myself inside and listen to somebody scream. Even if I never lived to see the Era of Peace.
I thought for a minute, and then I got on my phone. I went to the Buy Nothing group. I wrote to all of my neighbors, “I know it’s dangerous to drive right now. But if they plow by morning and anybody needs to charge your phone or something, there’s still power on at my place. Let’s look out for each other.” And I gave my address, and I put some chicken soup in the crockpot to simmer all night, so I’d have something to help people warm up. And then I went to bed.
In the morning it was quiet, still, bright as a February morning can be when the sun is nearly bursting through a sheen of white cloud. I went downstairs so I could open the door to any friends or strangers or demons who showed up wanting hot soup. And I wasn’t afraid at all.
Maybe the real Era of Peace is something that happens inside.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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