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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Look Up

I first saw the man at the airport. He was on his Blackberry…or maybe it was an iPhone or an Android. He was reading or texting, preoccupied, his gaze never leaving the object in his hand.

All around him were people likewise fixated on their various devices. Some nodded in time to silent music or held murmured conversations with invisible colleagues. Occasionally, they glanced up, only to transfer their attention to an electronic device at some remove—an arrival notice, a gate number or one of the ubiquitous wide-screens delivering an endless stream of infotainment.

This is the new paradigm, I thought. We’re addicted to input and to the devices that deliver it. Outside our perimeters, we are barraged with sounds and images; inside our small bit of real estate, mostly taken up by our physical selves, we have the illusion of controlling the flow of data, receiving only what we want to when we want it. But we are caught by our need to be up-to-date, ahead of the curve, not in the moment but in the next moment, somewhere else; anywhere else.

On board, I found myself next to the same man. He offered a polite smile; then bent over his phone urgently, as if to squeeze in every last bit of communication possible before the jet doors were closed and we were asked to shut off our electronic devices. Immediately after takeoff, my seat companion powered up his laptop and set to work for the duration of the flight. I kept my head down as well, reading. Occasionally I glanced out the window. It was a beautiful day for flying.

When the wheels hit the ground, I quickly turned on my cell phone, as did everyone else on the plane, scanning for important updates we might have missed. Force of habit, I told myself, although in truth the habit is no more than ten years old and most of us have been flying a lot longer than that.

I drove to my hotel on a tiny beach in Key Largo for my first day of vacation. It was warm, windy and sunny. Yet I ended up in the lobby with my laptop. Just a few things to check, I promised myself. One hour later, I was still online and the sun was going down.

At dinner that night I sat alone with my food, a glass of wine and my phone, trying to read Facebook updates on my small screen. The phone is a terrific dinner companion for a single person; you never feel alone or disconnected and you look busy, maybe even important. When the waiter asks if you’ll be dining alone, you can reply in the affirmative while keeping your eyes down and ignoring his expression of pity. Still, it’s a stupid activity to engage in on a balmy night in south Florida so I raised my head to look around. At the next table, I noticed a group of middle-aged people saying grace. No, wait; they each had phones and they were wrapped up in various efforts to reach out to someone—anyone?—who wasn’t sitting at the table. Occasionally someone tossed out a comment and there was a burst of conversation. But even then, no one made eye contact. I considered that a group of strangers could sit down at the table and start eating and the original group might not notice. The thought amused me; it also depressed me.

The next morning I was up bright and early…and on my computer. After a couple of hours, I stood up, powered down and got ready to go out. I reached for my cell phone and changed my mind. Who needed to reach me? Who did I need to contact? What was the meaning of the word “relax” in our wired/wireless world anyway?  And how was I going to get rid of the crick in my neck unless I lifted my head?

The beach was tiny but absolutely beautiful. Looking out across the gulf, no towers were visible, no cranes, no high-rise buildings; just water. A few people milled about, including, to my surprise, my seat buddy from the flight down. He’d obviously reunited with his family—two small children, a boy and a girl and an attractive woman I took to be his wife. But he was still tethered to his phone, perched on the edge of his chair, squinting at the small screen, as were several others. A flock of pelicans swooped low to the water, delighting the little girl. “Daddy, daddy,” she cried to her multi-tasking father. “Look at the birds!” she cried. He waved, but never took his eyes off his phone.

I didn’t need to be told twice, however. I looked up. Watching the birds, warmed by the sun, I stretched my neck and eased into my surroundings.

images: cio.energy.gov; brown pelicans by Mia McPherson (http://www.onthewingphotography.com)

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‘Tis a new year of diminished expectations which means technically, I don’t even need to make any resolutions for 2009. No one really expects me to keep them. In fact, no one seems to expect anything of me, or themselves or anyone else – except if your initials are BHO, in which case you are expected to save the world, save us from ourselves and stop smoking. No extra credit for those six-pack abs, buddy and sorry but last November is so last year.

In the spirit of setting the bar low enough for me to crawl under, I hereby resolve:

  • …to refrain from offering my opinion about whether Caroline Kennedy should serve as New York’s junior Senator even if asked. Not that I’d ever be asked because if I were, I’d only be reminded that as I live in New Jersey, my opinion is irrelevant .
  • …to consider long and hard any and all offers to work for the new administration.
  • …to stop resolving to give up sugar. Why should I? Sugar is a mood elevator and an anti-depressant and it certainly enhances the taste of anything chocolate.
  • …to stop obsessing over my dog, except have you seen my dog?
  • …to keep trying to solve the Middle East crisis – at least in my head, since no one’s asked me for my opinion.
  • …to find inner peace. I hold over this resolution from year to year. Obviously, I haven’t found it yet. Check back with me in June.

As my friend Dave suggested, have a Very New Year!

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Still Here

When I woke up this morning, I noticed I had the usual aches and pains, along with arms, legs, a head, a torso – in short, a corporal presence. This indicated to me that I had not been swept into a large black hole inadvertently caused by Large Hadron Collider. Notwithstanding the infinitesimally small chance this would have happened, some Internet wags have been having fun predicting the end of the world. Well, the super-sized particle accelerator went live today somewhere near the French-Swiss border, which is six or seven hours ahead of us. Since I woke up at seven AM, I figured I was safe. Now it’s 1 PM and I’m still here.

My first thought was, “Thank goodness.” My second thought was, “Damn, I have to go through another 9/11.” 

It’s been seven years since my husband was killed by an airplane commandeered by terrorists and flown into one of two World Trade Center buildings in Lower Manhattan and I still haven’t sorted out the shock, the violence, the grief and the historical significance of the event. I try to keep the public and private aspects of my experience separate like a good reporter who happens to get shot while covering a shooting war. I’d like to look at how the event affected Americans and U.S. policy and events that unfolded afterwards without circling back to my personal loss but I don’t know if I ever could, even if anyone could ever let me. This was a public death and while there are days when I have to strain to recall the day my father or my mother died, I will always know when my husband was killed, just as I will never know the exact circumstances.

So what should we do on September 11th? I never know what to say when I’m asked but here are some thoughts: Read up on the event or attend a lecture or discussion. Perform an act of kindness or charity. Engage yourself in the world. Count your blessings. Hug your kids – or someone else’s. Contact your friends. Appreciate the moment. Reflect on the meaning of life.  Practice tolerance. Stay calm. 

It’s as good a set of activities as any I can think of, not only for 9/11 but for any and every other day of the year.

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Resolute

Damn! January is almost gone and I haven’t come up with any grand schemes for making this year bigger, better, more exciting, inspirational, transformational, something.  I’d like to see some major changes in my career and (god knows) my social life but I haven’t quite resolved to do anything about either of those things except put in more effort.

Starting a new year is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of pressure to pull it together; January is national “Get Organized” month. Trapped at the beginning of the year by the bills or the blues, we feel we must be resolute. Resolutions are the means by which we commit to improving our lives. They represent the ultimate mulligan, the renewable do-over.  Okay kiddo, here’s your chance (again) to drop ten pounds/quit smoking/quit the job/find the job/spend more time with your spouse/ditch your spouse/fulfill your dreams/follow your bliss.  If we just promise to try to commit to something,  an entire set of industries stands ready to help, promoting and promulgating from the pages of women’s and the sets of morning talk shows. The advice is geared primarily to women, which is odd. It appears someone thinks men don’t make promises they can’t keep. Although maybe that just applies to New Year’s resolutions.

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Pay It Forward

I was going to write about the value of friendship but instead want to talk about the kindness of strangers. See, I got up early this morning, went into Manhattan, had two meetings, ran for the train, grabbed some soup which I was sipping in the waiting room when I put down my purse and voila, within minutes it was gone.

I’m always so careful and this never happens to me, of course, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know I was safe and unharmed but still: my wallet, my cell phone, my car keys (and house and mailbox keys), my checkbook, several items I’d just bought, some papers I needed, some things of sentimental value and who knows what else (it was a large purse). A normally resourceful person, I couldn’t figure out how I’d get back, how I’d prevent the wholesale looting of all my accounts, how I’d get home from the train station, how I’d get my car out of the parking lot, etc. I was a basket case.

Enter the lovely customer service folks at New Jersey Transit who were as helpful as they could be. Bad things sometimes happen to good people, the chief rep advised me. How she determined I was a good person I don’t know, but she gave me a hug and promptly set about trying to make things better. She lent me a cell phone to call my credit card companies (one woman even looked up the telephone numbers!) and a free ticket to get back to Princeton. I rode home with another transit worker who lent me her phone to complete my calls and reach my friend, who came to pick me up, brought me to the house and back to the lot to get my car. When I returned, I had a call from someone who said my driver’s license had been left in his store and offered to mail it back to me. So yeah, there was one bad apple in the Big Apple but then a slew of people went above and beyond to help me out.

PS – When I finally got home, I kicked back with a glass of wine and caught up on the news, where I learned that OJ Simpson may actually spend many years in jail for a recent bit of stupid thugishness. Hmm, so if bad things happen to good people, maybe the opposite is also true?

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An Integrated Life

I was going to write something about the outed and ousted Senator Larry Craig but a quick Google search revealed there were already some 23 million references to the incident (if you don’t know about the incident in question, try a Google or Yahoo or MSN search; you’ll catch up). One blogger even preempted my clever (but alas, not very original) post title – “His Own Private Idaho.” Nothing left to say, which is just as well. While most of the public and all of the media outlets speculate on Craig’s double life, I want to reflect on the singularly well-lived life of my friend Ed, which ended tragically a week ago when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Ed was a doer. He sold construction equipment, traveled the world, ran marathons and raced dirt bikes. He was a family man, by all accounts a friend and mentor to his kids, someone who remained deeply in love with his wife of 23 years. He was funny and generous and open to trying new things and new ideas. His energy and enthusiasm were addictive. Ed had a deeply spiritual side as well. He studied yoga, decided to become an instructor and had recently completed certification. He dreamed of living on what he told a friend would be his own personal Walden’s Pond. His was to have been a truly integrated life. Ed was on the road to a higher level of awareness as a means of achieving a degree of physical, mental and spiritual well-being that would make someone we all thought of as a good guy an even better one.

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I can’t believe that eight years have passed since Jack (“Dr. Death”) Kevorkian was sent to jail for his role in assisted suicide. The fact that he helped people with incurable illnesses who decided for themselves that their quality of life was unbearable but who, because of their afflictions, were unable to take their own lives is irrelevant to his critics and to (it should be noted) the law. I find it ironic that there are many people here and abroad who are involuntarily losing their lives every day – to famine, war, terrorism, illness and other forms of natural and man-made violence – and yet the law has marshaled its forces against an irascible old man who worked with those who freely made their choices.

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