One of my favorite, stranded-on-the-proverbial-deserted-island writers, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, said:
“If you surrender yourself to the moments as they pass, you more richly live those moments.”
That quote first struck me in 1995 before cell phones were anything less than a bulky walkie-talkie, let alone mini computers carried by everyone, all the time, constantly interfering with our ability—our choice—to live in the present. Anne made an impact on me then, but her words impact me more now given the craziness of today’s hyper-connected world.
A friend once asked her newsletter readers to electronically disconnect for one weekend and let her know what happened. The responses were interesting, especially the unexpected undercurrent of pride that shone through when people spoke about severing the tie to their devices. It was freeing and they felt more aware of their surroundings—a logical feeling to experience.
Across our ages, we’ve become too connected to the world electronically causing disconnections with the humans around us.Across our ages, we’ve become too connected to the world electronically causing disconnections with the humans around us. Click To Tweet
On a recent trip to Wales, we wound up in a 300-year-old cottage with massive walls almost two feet thick. To say picking up the wifi from the owner’s adjoining cottage was a problem is understating it quite a bit. We had to go outside and stand near his door, and since we had good weather, it wasn’t a problem for me or my travel companions.
It did help me decide to take a break from the internet—especially Facebook. That was a challenge because there’s a particular group on there, “Pembrokeshire—I love it,” full of Welsh humor and stunning photographs. As we posted pictures of our trip and the locals delighted in our delight, we were—well, delighted to response to their comments.
We’d wait until we were in a cafe and connect and check out the quips for a minute or two and shut the wifi off again. It was freeing. In any restaurant, our table was not one with three women sitting around it staring down at their phones. We were chatting, observing the beauty around us and having random conversation with anyone willing to visit.
Pondering Anne’s declaration, how linked do we need to be to the world away from where we stand right now?
Do we truly need to be available to everyone, every day, every minute? As a child of the 1960s and 70s, we were free to play in the four acres we called a yard, the woods surrounding that, and on snowy days fly our sleds down the dead-end road. Our mostly stay-at-home-moms knew where we were (hello—playing), who we were with (cousins, of course) and what (mostly) we were up to. We didn’t need to have phones or to constantly check in with them.
We kids were with each other, screaming with laughter, fighting occasionally, playing long into summer evenings—forming bonds that are instantly reconnected even if several years pass between cousin visits.
I have no problem ignoring emails, texts or phone calls, having made the decision years ago to control my electronics rather than be at their mercy. I don’t permit any notifications on my phone or computer so if you private message me on Facebook, I might get it by the end of the work day. Better to send an email—I look at that more often.
My last office task before crawling into bed is to shut off the email on my MacBook and open Scrivener to the project I want to work on. This little act allows me to keep my focus where I want it to be first thing in the morning.
When I mow or weed, the iPod stays in the house, not clogging up my ears. I listen to the neighborhood around me, the children laughing at the house next door, the slight clicking sound behind the roar of the mower’s motor, and the buzz of a honey bee soaring by my ear on his way to our multicolored zinnias. Noticing those things keeps me in the now savoring the sunshine on my face and breathing in the fresh smell of the cut grass.
Sometimes I disconnect in the car since I already limit talking while driving—my 2008 Rogue came with Bluetooth, but usually there’s a MercyMe CD booming through the extravagant (for me) Bose sound system. The songs are uplifting—even the ones that cause me to get teary eyed thinking of people I’ve lost. Every so often, though, I shut off the music and enjoy a quiet drive.
The talking and texting youth are missing what’s in front of their eyes and ears.
Twenty-five year olds think they can carry on a full conversation with one person while texting another. But we Boomers know you can’t split yourself that way and have a successful face-to-face interaction, building a relationship with a fellow human.
Once, in beautiful Rapallo, Italy, I watched a child strapped into a stroller while his parents visited with friends. But the child? He was glued to a tablet, watching images on the screen and missing everything going on around him—from the laughter of others to the glimpse of the sun setting on the calm Ligurian sea. The Italians are exceptional at immersing themselves in the beauty of the moments so seeing this boy caused a shot of sadness hit me as I wondered how he would learn to live in the here and now rather than inside a screen.
Another evening, I was in a fancy country club and a woman happened into the restroom when I did. She, ahem, sat down and made a phone call. Why? Trust me, the content was not so critical that it needed to be tethered to that moment. I thought, really? Didn’t you simply need a minute to yourself?
The positive of Facebook is making connections, the friendships you can rekindle or keep going across the miles. The negative to Facebook is that it gives a false link to people. Sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself, “When did I last see ________ in person or give them a call?” You have to make those efforts to keep your bond active.
Harking back to being a tot in the 1960s, our parents taught us three little ones to play the Alphabet Game on long drives. It was such fun and kept us active and our minds engaged. I’m convinced it kept them being good parents—meaning we didn’t irritate them so much shouting, “are we there yet,” to make them want to toss their kids out of the car.
The world is Harry Chapin’s song, Cats in the Cradle. Like people not seeing each other because they’re texting, not conversing, we’re missing times of our lives that are fleeting and not repeatable because they are right here in front of us now.
My father was the king of thinking quietly. He could sit on the back porch and look out at the rolling hills and woods he’d been studying since he was born and ponder. He’d have his coffee or maybe a drink in the evening, a cigarette or two, his spotting scope nearby. He’d sit at the stout walnut table he’d made, and he’d reflect. I know this skill, this strength, contributed to him being able to cope with having Lou Gehrig’s disease. As his body failed him and his voice faltered, his brain stayed perfectly strong and he was absolutely able to keep being Dad. Thinking.
Alex is able to sit calmly like that. He and Dad would have been interesting companions, wouldn’t they? Sitting without saying anything, sharing a cup of coffee, viewing the scenery, enjoying being in the minutes as they ticked past.
Me? It’s hard work for me to live Anne’s statement. A boss once used a stop watch to see how long I could sit still, not talking, not doing, inactive in one spot. He could have counted on one hand. My father used to type into Harry, making his ALS voice machine yell: Slow down!
Life’s too short, I have to … I have to … whatever it is at that precise point in a day—I have to do it.
I think of Anne writing her phrase decades ago, as she worked to exist fully in the day she was living and wonder what she would make of our constantly connected world. I think she’d be dismayed and curious, wondering when do we manage to make quiet, tranquil time for self-reflection and to hear our random swirling thoughts.
When winter starts to settle in, the sensory overload of good weather tapers off. It’s easier to practice being in the moment, surrendering to them, as Anne so richly phrased it. That quieting down of the naturally hectic times of life is one of the few reasons to ever look forward to winter.
Maybe this winter I will pace myself, keeping time as the minutes and hours passably, seeing the blessings and riches I have in this very moment, right now.