July 16th, thursday, I’m sitting in the middle of a coffee shop catching up with a friend. And I am already planning the rest of the day out in my head. Did I submit that article on time? Did I make sure I turned my hair straightener off before I left my house? When does my car need to go to the shop? And if I’m not going a mile a minute in my head, I’m scrolling through my phone. Answering people I left hanging. Sifting through e-mails making sure I didn’t miss anything. Casually checking my Instagram feed that’s usually inundated with engagement rings and feeble attempts at “Food Porn.”
But I wasn’t always like this.
As a child I craved conversation. I craved connection. I suppose I realized then how fleeting moments are. How quickly people come and go. Truth be told, I never wanted to be alone. I had a super-mom who looked after our schools and even babysat a few of the neighborhood girls in the afternoons. My fondest childhood memories involved those girls and the time we spent together every day after school. Over time, the girls became the sisters I never had. Long before cell phones and social media and the need to measure our own worth by the number of likes or favorites or retweets came crashing into our lives, it was always just me and these girls. Playing and fighting and laughing and dreaming. Face-to-face. We’d set up neighborhood-wide games of manhunt. We laid outside and counted stars. We knew nothing of the future, but we hung onto each other. When we laughed, it was never without tears. When we fought, we kicked and we screamed and we yelled. And when we loved, when we were there for each other in the midst of divorces, threats of divorce, familial discord, and broken homes, we loved hard. We were always present. Always right there with each other.
That was my childhood. In all its glory. It was beautiful and full and connected. It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve tasted the innocence of what a childhood was. Of the simplest form of fun and happiness. Of face-to-face interactions, getting dirty and muddy and being fully present because we had no other choice but to be.
It saddens and scares me that my teenage son will never have what I had. He is 16 and his idea of spending a saturday night with his friends is sitting in front of the computer and having a group video chat with them. He’ll never know communication beyond the three inches of his iPhone ( maybe). He’ll never know the excitement of coming home to a letter from a pen pal — a friend who moved away but still kept in touch via letter writing. I’m afraid he’ll never have the same affinity for deep, intellectually stimulating conversations as I do. I’m afraid that an argument between he and one of his friends will always be as a result of words that didn’t go over well in text. I’m afraid he’ll never be able to look someone square in the face and tell them what he feels.
Part of me wants to raise up the white flag, throw in the towel, and accept that this is it. We are a social-media-technologically-driven-world. You are never really ever running errands alone, because your head is in your phone having a conversation with someone about last nights party or the morning meetings to catch up on. When you’re riding the bus to work, the person next to you is scrolling through his Facebook feed. Awkward silences in elevators often result in everyone pulling out their phones and pretending to be in the midst of a juicy conversation with someone.
So should we bring ourselves to give up just yet? I guess I need more than that. I don’t ever want to be sitting face-to-face with someone and miss the point. I want more than text messages and Facebook wall posts and favorites on a picture. I want to be present. Real conversations. Real Kodak moments that aren’t up for others to judge whether or not they like them. I want to be connected — really connected. Because the truth is: life exists in the details. Love exists in the details. Connection exists in the details.
It’s in the smile that lights up the restaurant the second you walk in and meet up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in months. In the face-to-face conversations about the tough stuff — heartache and loss and love and careers and life-altering decisions. It’s in being there. Being present. Eyes up, ears open. It’s in falling in love with the sound of the voice, or the crooked smile, or the way they can’t keep from grinning when they see you. It’s waiting by the phone for his call because even though you just left the house, you need to hear his voice. And that voice is what matters. Not a text. Not lifeless words through a screen. But tone and warmth and I’m falling in love with yous whispered in the middle of the night.