July 3, 2015

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Forget that device, make time to be fully present to others

Patti LambSummer is in full swing, and my kids have especially been enjoying our local community pool and aquatic center. Today’s visit to the pool, however, was wrought with scolding after scolding, which made it much less fun. Unfortunately, I was the one being scolded—by my children.

I missed my daughter’s first venture down the giant outdoor water slide. Margaret, 7, was deflated when she looked up and found me engaged in an e-mail on my phone. She wasn’t interested in hearing that I was responding to an important e-mail message. All she knew was that I missed her big water slide debut.

A few minutes later, my son Henry, 10, performed an animated “scissor jump” off the high dive. I missed that, too. I was replying to a rather critical and time-sensitive text. Henry was so disappointed.

I fear that my phone is beginning to program me. Noises from my phone have become like Pavlov’s bell. I hear a “ding” or a whistle, and it’s like I’m being summoned away from the present moment.

“What if it’s something important?” I think to myself. After all, today’s technology allows me to be constantly accessible. I might appear rude if my correspondence isn’t timely.

When my children expressed their disappointment, I realized that what’s important is right in front of me—right here and now.

A quotation from Jim Elliot came to mind: “Wherever you are, be all there.”

I was disappointed in myself that, due to the distraction of a wireless device, I missed living in the present moment.

The other night, my cell phone rang repeatedly during our family dinner. Then our home phone would ring, followed by the cell ringing again. Finally, I stood up to answer. I felt that if someone repeatedly called, there must be an urgent matter to address. My husband stopped me and said, “You own your phone, and your phone does not own you.” Then he invited me to sit back down with the family at the dinner table.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has some changes to make. Recently, I’ve seen several signs that indicate I’m not alone. A sign on the door at a little restaurant said, “Sorry, no Wi-Fi. You will have to talk to each other.”

I saw a similar note taped to a deli counter which read: “We’ll gladly take your order when you’re done with your call.” Even at the local home goods store, I saw a plaque which stated, “A clean house is a sign of no Internet connection.”

In this age of marvelous advancements in communication, we must not forget that prayer is the world’s “original” and most important wireless connection. All of these gadgets and gizmos are great, but they also have the ability to lure us away from fully engaging with one another and with our Creator.

On vacation recently, we visited a Catholic church in another town. The lector reminded everyone to silence their phones prior to the start of the liturgy.

There are times that need to be reserved solely for God. After all, he can’t reach us when everyone else is trying to. The same logic applies with our families and friends.

Experience has taught me that “unplugged” time is essential, so back to the pool we go. I have a “scissor jump” and some water sliding to see. My phone will be secured in a poolside locker. Please forgive me when I don’t respond immediately to your message. I’m fully present elsewhere.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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