Electricity: The modern miracle

Given my predilection for history and historic fiction, I’ve occasionally thought about what it would be like to go back in time. I’ve also thought about what would happen if, say, Elizabeth Bennett, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice were to be transported to our time (I know that Miss Bennett is not real, but neither is time travel, so just work with me). Going back to Miss Bennett’s time – approximately 200 years ago – would be a shock. The lack of modern conveniences that require electricity to work – telephones, cars, air conditioning, refrigeration, television (and the list goes on and on and on) – coupled with the expectation of extreme propriety, especially regarding women’s roles, would take some getting used to, to say the least. Even knowing this, I think I would enjoy it for a week or two – a kind of time-travel vacation. The dresses, the horse-drawn carriages, the subtleties of the social scene, the dancing, the time to read, might all be fascinating. They might also prompt me to better appreciate what I have in this time.

In contrast, what would Miss Bennett experience once transported to America in 2020? Besides initial awe at things like cars, buses, and planes – and perhaps shock at the lack of propriety we have in our dress and manners – I think Miss Bennett would notice the electric light. The fact that darkness is rarely all-consuming in the here and now and requires no direct input of fuel or addition of fire. She might notice the ways in which that illumination allows us to travel long distances quickly and safely at night, to see each other clearly, and to create pathways that lead to each other. She might think that this almost ubiquitous light is miraculous. And she would be right.

Even without the myriad other modern advancements enabled by electricity, I think the light is still the most miraculous. I think about how my heart flutters when there is a power outage in the middle of the night (as rare as that is), wondering if we replenished the batteries in our flashlights (another modern convenience). Even after having worked in the electric utility industry for almost 20 years, it still feels like a tiny miracle to me when I flip a switch and the lights come on.

The significance of the historic and profound shift that enabled us to literally bring light to the darkness is still being felt. For those who live in our modern world without the benefit of electricity – who share many of the inconveniences of Miss Bennett’s time – the miracle has passed them by.

As we manage our response to a modern virus with modern healthcare and technology enabled by electricity, we should not forget the obligation we have to share the miracle with those who do not yet have it. Even in our own country. Thousands of people of the Navajo Nation – a population disproportionately suffering from the pandemic – do not have access to electricity. Light Up Navajo, a project initiated by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and APPA and supported by many electric utilities, aims to bring the miracle of electricity to those without it. The project brings volunteer lineworkers from utilities across the country together to build the infrastructure needed to deliver electricity to families on the Navajo Nation. The next installment of that effort was going to begin in April, but had to be postponed because of COVID-19.

As we recover from the pandemic and move forward as an industry and a country, I promise to not lose sight of the need to support Light Up Navajo so that we can bring the miracle of light to those who need it.