Dis/connected Connection

The other day I headed up to the mountains. Just for a day. I’m lucky to live in Portland, Oregon, where that’s possible–to drive up into the wilderness and back within the space of a mere 10 or 12 hours. I gave myself a day off from my counseling practice, from family, colleagues, friends, and the familiar sights and rhythms of the city. To go away, and to come back. It’s important. It always feels good and leaves me with a reminder that “I want to do this more often.”

I left early so as to make the best of my time. The night before, in an uncharacteristic spurt of organizational prowess, I laid out everything I needed for the time away. When I woke before my alarm, I slipped out quietly into the cold air and dim light of early morning and was on my way.

It was about 20 minutes into my drive when I found myself reaching for my cell phone, only to find… no phone. Not in my pockets. Not in my bag. Not in the storage area under the armrest. Nowhere. I stopped and rifled through everywhere I could think to look. Twice. Nothing. Had it fallen out of a pocket onto the street? Was it on the table at home?

I noticed my anxiety rise as I contemplated my venture without that apparently indispensable tool, the cell phone, that only 15 years ago I did quite well without. What if I had car trouble? Or sprained my ankle on a trail? What if there were a family emergency? Or a client crisis? No one would be able to reach me, and I could reach no one, short of a pocket full of change and the rare sight of a pay phone. I reproached myself, my disorganization, my mistake.

Now, just to clarify, I don’t have a phone with lots of fancy stuff. No iPhone. No “apps.” Not even a less expensive knockoff of said device. No offense to the wonder of those technologies, but I don’t particularly want anything like that. I have a recording of the singer Tom Waits telling stories and jokes to an audience in Birmingham, Alabama, and I like it when at one point he laments the cell phone that is also a camera. “Why can’t something just be what it is?” he asks. My phone does have a camera, but it’s basic. I went for one that can take a beating too, which is fortunate, since I’ve already left it lying out in the grass on a dewy night once or twice by accident. It has a permanent defect now where the damp got in and messed up the display, but it works fine.

As the absence of the phone sunk in, I found myself driving down the freeway and country roads, slowly letting go of my anxiety at being dis/connected from the spirits of the air, those invisible transmitters of text, image, and voice, to other humans far from the actual place I inhabit at any one moment. A strange calm came over me, and a release. I was free in a new way for that day, from the fear driven by my attachment to those invisible connections. Then it was evening, and I was back. Nothing bad happened. I felt happy and refreshed and wondered whether I would leave my digital device behind on purpose next time. I thought to myself that maybe–thanks to technology–never being dis/connected means never really getting a chance to go away, and to come back, and I expect the soul wants that chance.

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