Of Circuit Breakers, Re-Wiring, Energy Conservation, and Sharing the Load
Standing in my jammies in the living room, cupping my coffee in front of the new fire, warming my chilly bones early on a sub-zero Minnesota New Year’s Day morning, I mulled, yet again, why I haven’t written or posted much on social media for such a long time.
It’s not like I haven’t had things to say, and it’s not like there haven’t been things to be said, both about the deflating and the elating experiences of 2021.
For that matter, I simply love writing, and look forward to engaging on social media.
I’ve missed it, that is.
So there I stood in the room illuminated only by the fire and the Christmas tree, cup in hand, pondering what, with all sorts of things to think on, to write about, to post, was stopping me?
Why have I not been able to publish but a few words here and there?
But there in the firelight of our wood stove, I found myself with an answer, “Because my circuits are overloaded.”
And that, I’ve decided, is a fairly decent metaphor, and perhaps exactly right.
An electrical circuit is a circle of power that runs throughout, say, a house.
Into each circuit, a person can tap into the electrical current for x-number of purposes; lights, appliances, heat, computers, TVs, speakers, and so forth.
The amount of energy, though, that the circuit can provide remains constant.
So given that, its ability to serve the needs asked of it depends on both the number of needs and the power demanded of each thing that needs some electrical juice.
For example, last winter we were running into circuit problems at the Spent Dandelion, because the same circuit ran the garage heater, the CO2 monitor, the small freezer, the refrigerator, the lights…and then a guest would pop on a hair dryer—a perfectly reasonable, appropriate thing to do, except that hair dryers demand a ridiculous amount of power (who knew?).
So with that little flip of a small appliance’s switch from ‘off’ to ‘on,’ the circuit breaker would shut off the electrical current through the whole place, making nothing work at all.
It turns out that the circuit load doesn’t care what is using it: it has the same limited energy to offer of itself regardless of whether it’s being used to power up a KitchenAid Mixer (which, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me, I love doing), or a vacuum cleaner (which, no surprise to anyone who knows me, I hate doing).
And it also doesn’t care whether the last thing to put the power capacity over the top is a large electrical drain, like, say, a refrigerator, or a small one, like a phone charger.
The energy available is the energy available.
If you ask more of the available energy than there is, a protective switch flips, and everything stops.
This, it happens to be, is both inconvenient and a good thing.
It’s inconvenient, because…well, because of the obvious: if the circuit breaker trips, it doesn’t matter whether there are expectations of demands for power that need to be met, the electricity is still going to go off, because the electrical circuit can’t meet the electrical expectations.
When that happens, the food in the freezer melts, essential device batteries lose charge, a person stumbles in the dark and stubs their toe.
That being said and true, if the circuit breaker weren’t there, making the power stop, then the wiring would fray, a fire could start, and everything could burn down.
On a personal level, the take-away, I think, might be this:
You’ve got only so much energy to use, and if you have more demands (welcome or not) on your energy than energy, either a figurative circuit breaker is going to trip, turning everything off, and making some things that need power suffer from a lack of it, or the demands will be too great, and your proverbial place could go up in flames.
Upshot: if there is more power needed than there is power to give, the house will burn out or burn up.
The analogy ain’t bad, gotta say.
Ideally, a person has at least enough, if not more than enough, energy to meet the demands.
If not, A) a person will not be able to meet those demands, and some things won’t go well for a spell until they’ve caught a break and had their switch flipped again; or B) a person will be overcome by the stress of it all, and will need help rebuilding.
For the record, it dawned on me that for a good while, I’ve been experiencing Option A, which is precisely why I haven’t been blogging or posting so much.
I’m not ashamed to say that my circuit breaker has been getting a workout in 2020 and 2021, and I totally get those who find themselves all the way in at Option B.
No shame either way.
So here’s just some of what I have wanted to write about:
The Taxing, Troubling, Terrible, and Terrifying
Manchin could take up pages of my words, as could Sinema.
And Biden himself has continued too many of Trump’s immigration policies to make me happy, and don’t get me started on the Democratic party’s apparent inability to take the GOP’s encroaching authoritarian threat to democracy seriously, and everyone’s apparent inability to take the climate change threat to the Earth seriously.
And then there’s the grief of fires and tornados and flooding, all very much related to the environmental reckoning with which we don’t want to reckon.
And the Texas Abortion Law: not enough pages nor words.
And rostered leaders are having such a slog these days for so many complex reasons, and many are saying “Enough!” not just to their congregation but to their calls and even to the Church.
And my denomination, the ELCA, is facing questions and shifts about race and systems and inequity, each simultaneously wrenching and far too late-in-coming. In fact, I do believe that there is good reason to wonder if it’s too late for the ELCA to face them and survive.
And Covid: I simply can’t wrap my mind around humans, regardless of their religious inclinations, but especially Christians, not vaccinating, not masking, not caring for their own well-being or that of others. The profound, devastating selfishness is painful to comprehend.
And an insurrection—with not a single participating lawmaker yet being held to account, and an overwhelming majority of Republican congresspeople voting to avoid investigation into and accountability for the treason of that day—on Epiphany.
And Christian nationalism.
And the mean-spiritedness that is on social media: just….ooof.
And such pillars of hope and joy have died—that Bishop Tutu and Betty White both passed within days of one another at the end of a year when we needed their hope and joy is simply not right.
And with that and ever so much more, Lord Almighty we are all tired, taut, and tapped out.
Our switches have tripped.
But to such depressing pieces, one can’t help but counter them with the power infusions of goodness and righteousness, complicated though some of them are, brought to us in 2021:
The Uplifting, Unexpected, Utterly Joyous
The election was certified.
We survived the coup.
Derek Chauvin was found guilty.
We are out of Afghanistan.
Confederate memorials were taken down.
Vaccines were made available to all.
We reentered the Paris Accord.
Workers began to mobilize for rights.
Donald Trump was banned from Twitter.
We have the first Black and the first female VP.
Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka taught the world about the value of mental health.
And perhaps most importantly, cheese was discovered to not cause weight gain.
Gosh that last one makes me so inexpressibly happy.
To be honest, as I reflected on this New Year’s morning, most of my personal 2021 was very much on the upside:
Dad’s cancer diagnosed in 2020 was kept at bay, and by all accounts appears to be cured.
Else got off to college and has found her place and her people and her personal growing sense of who she is (which, as an aside, breathtakingly ah-may-zing).
Karl is not just content but thriving at school and as a volunteer at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, spreading his unparallel-able life-giving joy wherever he goes.
We were able to receive a few more hours of help per week for Karl.
My book was finished and sent off to the publishers.
And this kind, generous, intelligent man in my world—people he brings my mind alive, makes my heart flip, makes my mouth smile and my belly laugh, and causes my lungs and spirit to breathe ever so clean and full.
But all in all, it’s been a stressful not just past year, because ⬆️; and not just past couple of years, because Covid and distance learning and cancelled events and no care providers all while trying to write a book; and not just past six years, because a move and a new business and Trump; and not just…well, heck, the more I think of it, it’s been a bit of a tax on the old system not just since the accident all the way back in 2004, but even before with grad school (1999-2004), two babies (2001 and 2003), first call (1996-1999), new marriage (1995), and seminary (1992-1996), and that’s not even mentioning graduating in the rotten economic year of 1991 with a degree in English and medieval women mystics!
So, I think that last year, my circuit breaker flipped.
I’m awfully glad I have a working circuit breaker.
On the downside, I lost my post-accident honed ability to omni-task.
But on the upside, in the last year especially, I discovered I could only do so much, brought all the more to the fore by the various increased demands on my energy (e.g., distance learning for Karl) and reduced available energy (e.g., an almost utter lack of PCA care for Karl).
Moreover, I (re)learned that the good stress in life also takes energy.
Just like even a mixer turned on to make cookies is a very, very good thing, and even so can trip the breaker, so too can new love, a new book, a new way of life have the same effect.
So I have been resetting my circuit breaker, quite a lot, actually, flipping the switch back and forth in a variety of ways, and it helps.
That explains why I’ve been posting and writing less: I love to do it, and very much miss doing both, but given all that has been going about, these things that I love doing tapped my energy load, so to speak, like a metaphorical KitchenAid mixer whipping up a batch of my favorite cookies.
I needed to keep the proverbial lights on, and so had to conserve some energy.
So in the early dawn of this New Year’s Day, I found a rare opportune time to ask some self-reflective questions, and questions like:
What/who takes my energy?
What energy demands on me need to be pitched, repaired, swapped out, unplugged for a while?
What/who gives me energy?
What/who recharges me, enlightens me, makes me shine brighter?
And what/who needs my energy?
What is a necessary, efficient, useful way for me to empower others, to shine some light on something or someone that needs a little illumination, to charge up something that is itself waning in energy?
What of my system might need to be rewired?
And what systems to which I’m plugged in need at best to be rewired, and at worst can’t be, leaving the only alternative for me to unplug myself from them?
Advent is quite possibly my favorite season, so it was bugging me to no end that I had no load capacity to jot down some words about it.
To myself, I chuckled wryly that in the very season dedicated to waiting, I was waiting for some time to write about this very season!
But I also realized that I was waiting, this Advent, not only for more time, but for more energy for myself, and more kindness, more grace, more love, more Jesus in the world. Just thinking about that real need cost me some real wattage right there.
And when Christmas came, I realized that Jesus had come, but that Christians are often willing to tear into every gift but that one.
I’ve come to think that to one degree or another, we’re all a little afraid of what’s really in that manger’s box.
And now we are on the verge of Epiphany, this season of light, this season when the power of God shows up in the world when we least expect it, and who shines brightly even when we are feeling quite dimmed—and quite dim!
I think that this power of God is not, say, for us to feel like now we have extra amps to do it all, and that we should do it all, because there is so much in the name of God to be done, and through God all things are possible, even crossing off every single one of our very long list of righteous and garden-variety to-dos.
(Spoiler alert: that, with all due respect to God, is not possible.)
No, rather it’s the sort of power that courses through us giving us the energy to do what we can, and when we just can’t anymore, it gives us the power to actually take a break.
Before we burn out, or burn up, we’re given the grace to stop the circuit.
Unplug a few things.
Rewire if necessary.
Conversely, for those of us with extra power coursing through us, we’re called to share an outlet with those who need it.
We can even be a generator, so to speak, of energy not just by offering to do things, but by offering to be a way that expresses goodness in the world (this article tells of how simply availing oneself of occasions for awe, and inviting others to it, makes for more generous, kind, centered, and energized people), and by offering simply to be there for people whose circuit breaker isn’t working, or who have dangerously frayed wiring, and perhaps have some smoke around their core beginning to swirl.
On this dawn of a New Year, then, I wish for all of you the power to do what you are called to do and be, the power to share yourself with others who need your energy, and the power to trip your own breaker when you need a break.
With hopes for more blogs, more posts, and a lot more cheese, I wish you blessings in 2022!