Sunday, August 22, 2010

Put the gadget down. Please.

Last week, I was rear ended by a person who was clearly not paying attention while driving. He never even braked. Distracted drivers are becoming the new drunk drivers. It is becoming epidemic.

But I am not upset by this. It was a good wake up call. I have allowed myself to be distracted as well. We all have. We may not text and drive, but we dial and drive and talk and drive and look back at our kids and drive and put on lipstick and drive and eat a burger and drive. I have been known to use the rear-view mirror to check my hair while driving on the Mass Pike at rush hour.

By the grace of God, I have not been surprised by a stopped car in front of me. I have not veered off of the road or into the path of another car.


But I don't want to talk, or write, about distracted drivers.

I want to talk about people living distracted lives.

There is a lot of life around us. But so many of us miss so much of it. We are obsessed with checking our email, texting, playing games on tiny screens and watching TV. We are always in a rush.

It seems to me that the more technology we have to make our lives easier, the more complicated they have become. The more we are removed from real life. And the less in touch we are with ourselves and our families.

We are so removed from real life that we even watch fake real life on TV.

So odd.

But when someone becomes ill, real life makes a sudden appearance. And shakes things up a bit. I see it happen often.

Suddenly, they are forced to slow down. They see things often for the first time in a long time. They talk to people face to face more often. They read more. They rest more. They write more. They spend more time with family. They spend time working on things that bring them joy. Like needlepoint, reading the newspaper or reading trashy novels. Maybe playing cards or board games with their kids. Things they thought were "time wasters' before.

And they hardly ever turn on gadgets. Not even a computer.

"I never realized how alone I was. I thought I was paying attention to things because I emailed a lot and talked to old friends on Facebook. I thought I was connected to my daughter and son because we texted each other every day, sometimes several times a day. My husband and I watched TV together. But the thing was, we were never really together. I really did not have a clue as to how they were truly feeling, how they even smelled anymore. I used to lie down with my daughter and smell her hair when she was young. That to me was heaven. Now, I never do that. I am sad to say it. I am usually yelling at her to brush it or get it out of her face instead."

This is not some dying patient who had a sudden epiphany. She is a youngish 40-something career oriented mom on our bridge program for pain management. She has two kids, a girl who is a "tween" and a teenage boy.

"I see them with their friends. They text one another while in the same room so that others cannot hear their conversation. I understand that all of the kids do this. I get it. But they miss so much. Relationships are so much more than typed words"

She went on to say, "I never really slowed down until I got sick. I thought I was getting so much done by multi-tasking all of the time. Trying to be productive. Trying not to "waste time". But all I did was waste my time on things that really do not matter. I was always so distracted. I want to smell my daughter's hair again. I want to hug my kids more and spend less time doing things that only I see as important. People are important. Interacting takes time. You have to learn how to interact with people. I am worried that my kids won't know how to interact. We really should have a national no-gadget day. People need to reconnect."

Indeed they do.

Connection is a key part of life that many of us think we have, but we don't. Texting and email is a great way to communicate, but it is a lousy way to really connect. Because to really connect, you have to be physically present. Really present. (And to drive safely you have to be present, too. Ahem.)

So that distracted driver really did me a favor. He made me realize how foolish I have been, allowing myself to become so distracted. Distracted to life.

So tonight I will ask my daughter to put down the gadgets. I will shut off this computer. I will reconnect by disconnecting.

And then I will hug her. And I will smell her hair.

And I will drive only to get somewhere safely. I will be present. Cause if I am not, I may never be again.

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