The house I grew up in had six touch tone phones, two rotary dials, and a TV destined never to feel the life giving breath of 1600 cable channels until the house has been razed and its toxins condensed into styrofoam stucco. It had a basement full of oil and sawdust and gears and a yard full of car parts older than I was.
The county power lines were frequently felled by dead branches or strong winds and the house would grow still. If you live in a buzzing, beeping world, you can feel it when the power goes out. It feels like your second pulse stopping. Even in that shrine of machinery, the loss of electricity was palpable.
Tonight I go into the kitchen for a glass of water and notice the top of the water filtration pitcher blinking at me. Like my cellphone, the life span of the charcoal filter that is the pitcher's heart is measured by four thick bars, which have all collapsed, leaving the tiny indicator starved and infuriated.
I commence the process of locating the directions and the spare filter. I soak the new filter in clean water and wash the pitcher. The directions tell me that to satisfy the indicator that order is restored, I need to depress a small button and hold it down until the display is quiet again.
I hold the button down and one bar is rejuvenated, but my thumb slips and the indicator shrieks a tiny arrow at me, pointing up to the neglected button. I press harder and the bars build back up, one two three four. I remove my thumb and the display could easily be a sticker on the pitcher's lid.
There is a tiny mind at work on the top of my water pitcher, and with a few seconds on my thumb's attention, I give it life.
This wonder of a liquid crystal display is only 36 years old, and already someone has found a way to power it with the touch of a fingertip. In the same world where people die and live in fear for want of bullhorns and buses. In the same nation that would stand still without gasoline for its legions of midnight semi-trailers. The thing that makes the modern world possible is so small and common, it's not even something I can hold in the palm of my hand. It's so small I can fit it on my fingertip.
It's a dumbfounding truism. An oil crisis will eventually force us to find new energy, and our collective ingenuity will force us to find more, faster. We search the world for this miracle and make billionaires of those who deliver it, but what we seek and wage wars for is all the while inside of us. With the slightest gesture we can push it out.
I can stand in my yard looking at the empty sockets above my porch where floodlights should be. I can see them illuminated by the glow of my neighbors' windows. If they turn out the lights, I can see the grass sighing in the muttering flicker of their TVs. When the late show goes to bed, I can see by the light of the stars. When the pink sky blots those out, the yard is lit by the ambient glow of the city. And if the city should ever stop, I can take a lighter or flick a match and make my own small sun.
We have the same spark that moves the world hidden under our thumbprints.