The electricity went out on Saturday. My first thought was, “No way, I just talked to the Illuminating Company two days ago!” Then I heard my upstairs neighbor begin to stumble around. I looked at the door: no line of light coming from the hallway. I looked out the window: no lights except for a streetlight from the major intersection two blocks away. Looked like a normal power outage. No big deal.

Which is to say, no big deal to me. I’m an emergency preparedness junkie, and I knew exactly where the candles were. I knew that I could light them from my gas stove. But tripping over something in the dark wouldn’t hurt me. That wouldn’t be true if I were 50 years older than I am, and had osteoporosis. A little darkness wouldn’t panic me. But it might frighten a small child, especially in an apartment without candles or a flashlight. So I did what any former Girl Scout would do: I went to check on my neighbors.

The responses were surprising.

First was the number of people who simply decided not to answer the door. I knew they were there (it’s not a very soundproof building), but they didn’t answer my knocking. I guess some stranger knocking on your door in the darkness is a little intimidating. Or maybe they were just busy. My formerly Jehovah’s Witness friend calls people like this HBH: “home but hiding.” No big deal.

The second set were the people who were surprised I even bothered. “Wait, you’re from the second floor and you came all the way up here to check up on people?” Yeah, I climbed one entire flight of stairs. It didn’t feel like much of an astounding sacrifice. I just wanted to see if anybody needed a candle or some company.

But nobody I talked to was unhappy to see me there.

All in all, though, it went well. Everybody was okay, and I met some neighbors without having to throw a party or go begging for a cup of sugar. I spent an hour reading Dune by candlelight for an hour before the power came back on.

It’s easy to put off meeting the people around you by saying you need a good reason to knock on somebody’s door. It’s true. But the fact is, you get to pick your reason. “I wanted to invite you to my potluck,” is a reason. So is, “I’ve just moved in, and I wanted to say hi.” And so is, “I had some extra candles and I wanted to make sure everybody was okay.”

So if you need an excuse to be outgoing, go ahead and make one. Sometimes it’s just easier making friends in the dark.

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