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 The Night I Met Gwyneth Paltrow 

September 23, 2003

What a week. Thursday night I was frantically getting ready to drive to New York the next day for a wedding on Long Island Saturday. My daughter and her children were up from Virginia Beach, staying at my house to escape Hurricane Isabel. My own home, in Fairfax County, Virginia, was expected to be spared.

At 10 p.m. I was talking on the phone to the father of the bride when the lights went out.

So did my computers. So did the radios. So did the refrigerator. So did the microwave. In the next few minutes I discovered in just how many ways I depend on electricity. I groped my way to a flashlight and did a little reading, but no more writing — or packing — that night.

Power failures in this area never last more than a couple of hours. This one did. In the morning my neighborhood was still powerless. Trees had fallen on every block, one of them barely missing my second car.

My head was spinning. So many preparations to make, and I couldn’t figure out where to start or what was feasible. I had to leave without getting my bearings or learning when we’d have power again. I threw a few necessities into my car, said good-bye to the family, and set off before noon.

First I had to stop at the bank to get money for the trip. The bank was closed. I had enough cash in my pocket for gas and a couple of meals. I hoped I could get a little loan from a friend in New York.

Almost dazed, I turned on the car radio and finally got the picture. The news was that we might be without water and electricity for a week. Since my daughter had to leave for home shortly after my departure, I wouldn’t be able to get news at home all weekend: nobody would be there to answer the phone. My poor dog would be home alone. I was due to return Sunday evening. Oh, great!

[Breaker quote: And escaped Isabel]There was really nothing to worry about, but I did what I always do in these situations: I worried. The drive went smoothly, but I was exhausted by the time I reached New York late in the afternoon.

It was a good chance to do a lot of thinking, if only I’d been able to think. Some of my deepest insights — the really seminal ones, the kind that change the world — come to me during a long drive. Usually I can’t wait to get back to my computer and set them down for posterity. Not this time. I was seized by an irrational fear that I’d never use my computers again.

The only profound thought that occurred to me on this drive was that you never know what’s going to happen next. I tried this idea out on a few friends over the weekend, but it didn’t exactly floor them.

I spent much of the weekend reading the papers, trying to glean a little information about what Isabel was doing in my area. I learned only what I already knew: that countless people here were going to be without basic utilities indefinitely.

Luckily, Isabel was a spent force by Saturday. The weather on Long Island was heavenly. The wedding was beautiful. I’ve known the bride since she was a toddler, and she was gorgeous. When her father, one of my dearest friends, escorted her to the altar, I cried — first time a wedding has ever done that to me. I was so happy I forgot to worry. The groom was a gracious, handsome young man, grateful to have so lovely a wife.

The reception was gloriously festive. Gwyneth Paltrow was there — an old school chum of the bride, whose wedding gift was the brilliant band that played. She even sang with the band, very creditably.

It was a magical evening. All storms were over. No more worrying. At home Sunday evening, the lights were back on. The dog was fine. All was well.

I’ve been trying to extract a moral from the whole experience, but the best I can do is this: no use worrying. If you could see even one hour into the future, you could soon be a billionaire. But you can’t. If you’re really lucky, though, Gwyneth Paltrow may smile at you for a moment.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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