Last night, I was listening to a new acquaintance talk about the tendency, these days, for people to make an almost knee-jerk adjustment from experiencing real and intense events to suddenly detaching from that experience by putting a cell phone in front of their faces (supposedly) to record the event…and then walk away. In his words, “far from feeling rejuvenated…what was once exotic has quickly become familiar…”
I was reminded of the video of the street person who sat at a sidewalk piano and beautifully played a familiar song, from memory. The grace with which he crossed right hand over left to precisely strike the bass note was poetry. I was in awe; the spectators were in awe…until a young woman took out her phone to record it. Really? Now, in all fairness, the person recording the event for my benefit was doing the same thing, but I think she sensed the inappropriateness of her actions and put her phone away. She settled back and just experienced what was happening.
I do not dispute what my acquaintance says about people today but, I suspect, people have been responding (with or without cell phones) to intense real life since before the shepherds fell to the ground and hid their faces from the angel…I’ll go so far as to say since before Adam and Eve hid from God. Some things are too intense. Some people are less able to handle intense events or emotions than others.
I know a woman whose default state is to have her ‘devices’ up. She is always composed and in control. Ironically, she likes to attend Christmas Eve services and expects to be ‘moved.’ When she is not, she is disappointed in the church or the service that has been recommended to her. I will not criticize her because I do not know what past experiences have caused her to keep herself detached and protected.
I recall waking up in the wee hours many years ago because in my sleep I had been aware of angels singing in rejoice for my recent spiritual unfurling. As I stood at the dark window looking out from my room, the sensation and details of the experience faded. Many times I have had intense and delightful dreams only to waken, aware that my dream had been wonderful, but I could not recall exactly how or in what way.
What I am saying is no revelation. There are even pop songs written about how just touching the beloved other is more than the writer can handle. And, in all fairness to current society’s moves to put up devices for protection, our constantly and easily being informed of our world today evokes extreme and acute sensations. I am reminded, again, of seeing the uncensored images of 9/11 where bodies were falling from above and landing with a finality around a man, seemingly unable to move. I saw the uncensored images shortly after Anwar Sadat was shot…a man held up his stump of a forearm; he had dark holes in his face. Even a TV drama episode which showed a man’s arm being severed by a helicopter blade…before the requisite “Caution to viewers…,” taught me what it means to have your ‘gorge rise.’
My brother can not watch the annual rivalry game between Clemson and Carolina (the southern one) because the real-time tension and insecurity upsets him too much; he records it. If Clemson wins, he makes watching the victory a major event. If Clemson loses, he destroys the recording…probably with disgust and a fair display of emotion. Before TEVO, I’m sure he chucked the video cassette into the trash and burned it.
We all have our devices.
For a long time, I held God and faith away at arm’s length. I attended services and received communion; I served on the altar guild (being careful to avoid the duties which involved preparing the elements for communion; that was too holy); I proofed the bulletins; I photographed events; I created the directory and the tri-fold brochure; I directed weddings; I answered the phones. I was busy and contributed…but was not fully present. When I kneeled to pray, the best I could muster was,”okay, God; I’m here.” When in a group and the group offered up prayers, I did not participate…out loud, anyway. My pain involving God was too intense, too hot. I had a lot of wounds that needed draining before they could heal.
We all have our devices.
I am repeating myself, but I say that it is okay to put up devices because this is not heaven; this is the life before the afterlife. My creed, if I remember to use it, is to be kind and gentle. As I have heard it said, until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, you have no right to judge. What my acquaintance says is well taken, well intended…and true. We as a society tend to miss out on the real experience of this real life. It is a shame…and it makes me sad. But I understand it in the same way I understand how people can hate others because of fear or injury. It is a truth…a natural human reaction. I will gently add, though, that it is a device that we should observe, recognize, and if given the strength and grace to…take down.