In Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together, she describes the familiar scene in a coffee shop where two people – friends, lovers, perhaps spouses – sit at a table, each surfing the web or texting someone else on their laptop or cell phone rather than interacting with the human being sitting across from them.
This kind of “alone together” can seep into our interactions (or lack thereof) with children, too. Instead of being fully present, sometimes I find myself instead using my cell phone to take pictures so I can remember the moment with a grandchild, rather than actually experiencing it. One of my photos shows six-month old Anastasia trying to peer around the phone to see where I’ve gone.
It’s harder and harder to be fully present to “this” moment in “this” place with “these” people, when the rest of the world is so readily available quite literally at our fingertips. Oh, I’m not complaining – I love the ease of information, the infinite possibilities. Right now I’m on a plane 38,000 feet in the air, nothing out the window but clouds below and sky above, but I can exchange email with my 93-year old father or peruse my online photo albums or look up a quotation from Richard Feynman or find the words to a forgotten poem.
But sometimes we really do need to be fully present to one another, especially to the children. As their caretakers, we are called to be instruments of the love with which God gazes on them, to take immediate delight in their accomplishments as they create mud pies or build block cities, learn to crawl or dance or swim. To be there, simply to be wholly there.
I feel (this is embarrassing) bereft and somehow vulnerable if my cell phone is not in my pocket or right next to me. But I am also more alive and attuned if sometimes I can walk away from it and just “be.” I can see my grandchildren better when I’m looking at them unencumbered, not through a lens, not already crafting in my head the email I will send along with a photo.
It’s all really just about hanging out with one another in real time. God’s constant call into community reminds us that we’re not meant to go it alone, not even alone together.