Looking up for once

Reese Hawkins
junior from Benton, Ky.

This past Monday we residents of the Murray area were all treated to what’s been dubbed the #mkyblackout or the #murrpocalypse if I have my Twitter hashtags correct.

I know I am new to this column, so let me interrupt myself here and say I am a person who chooses his words carefully.

As a student of the Journalism and Mass Communication department (public relations more specifically) and intern in University Communications, the gift of gab is supposed to be my ace in the hole. I apologize in advance if I wax philosophically for longer than some of you can stomach.

That aside, during the hour or so this sleepy town was plunged into darkness during the middle of the day, what I witnessed was truly mindblowing.

Like most of the older students here I was a resident during the ice storm of 2009. If you were not around let me tell you it was a blast.

This town has a pristine and heavenly quality to it when it’s glazed in snow and ice under an unobstructed, crystal-clear view of the winter night sky.

It’s beautiful.

Not to say the storm didn’t have economic and social repercussions that should go overlooked. But the feeling of being off the grid, having to depend on your wits and what you had on hand and the loss of the feeling anything I needed was merely a trip to Walmart away was nothing less than exhilarating.

Some might see this as short-sighted and they would be correct.

Sure, a weekend of this is a lot less severe than three weeks. That is the amount of time my hometown spent without electricity during the ice storm. And trust me, returning home, even briefly, left me awash with emotion that I have rarely felt since.

Many families and people struggled to provide for themselves during that time. But like all good stories go, they pulled together and helped one another achieve something greater than they alone could not do. And this time the goal was merely survival.

It was during that time I saw friend help foe, community spirit take over small-town politics and the inherent goodwill to help begin to thrive.

For once the battle lines had blurred.

For an hour this Monday, that began to occur. People shared knowledge of what happened, communicated with each other and even shared advice.

We reached out to those closest to us and focused on the effort to understand and beyond that, to help.

But just like that the hypnotic gaze that our screens had on us for so long was suddenly broken, if only for a moment, to show us what we had forgotten: the value of communication.

It’s easy to lose sight of. Especially in a world where communication happens at the speed of light and our messages are beamed directly to our pockets no matter where we are. But I walk through campus and hardly ever make eye contact anymore.

We are screenagers. Our eye contact is made through telescopic lenses aimed poignantly at one another. They keep us safe and exiled, and keep the shield of anonymity raised high.

But ironically enough, because of these tall walls, the value of face-to-face communication has never been higher. When you genuinely connect with someone, whether it be in a helping manner, lovingly, friendly or otherwise, the power of that connection is manifested immediately in front of you.

It has become increasingly rare and to me it almost feels like magic.

To breach these elegant walls made of LED displays and touchscreens that technology has allowed us to build around ourselves, and really connect meaningfully.

It makes me pine for the days of old when writing a letter meant more than just 44 cents and a trip to the post office.

But for an hour, I feel like we broke away from that social norm.

We should all be so mindful to remember to look up every once and a while.

We will never know where we are going if we are always looking down.