It doesn’t take long. You walk in the door and know within twenty seconds whether you’ve stepped into a comfortable home where you can relax and belong, or walked into a set of rooms that are evaluating and anticipating your departure. It’s almost as if you can smell it, even though you can’t quite put your finger on the scent. You know. Oddly enough, the outside couldn’t tell you. You had to cross the threshold. A house encloses an atmosphere all its own, an atmosphere you can only guess at until you’ve filled your lungs with it. I’ve been to warm brick mansions with flower-studded gardens where the other side of the door holds air that is stale, expensive, and untouchable. On the other hand, I’ve breathed in generous kindness inside shacks that let the sun in through their cracks, and sent the sound of laughter back to meet him. But that doesn’t mean it’s an income issue: I’ve also been to identical houses that shared the same street, yet behind their doors the air was radically different.
In last week’s post I lamented the growing number of areas where we are losing the opportunity to interact with humans. I called it “I miss talking to strangers” because I’ve started to realise that human interaction, even when brief, is a precious thing that helps us all remember who we are. When convenient machines rob me of that, the loss is real. I really do miss talking to strangers.
In the days following the post, your comments got me thinking further: what about the opportunities that remain? Yes, our culture is shifting from conversation to convenience, but as long as there are other people, interaction will continue on some level. Is it possible that even while I’m missing the old social ways of doing things, I could also be missing chances to speak to the humans around me? It is, and I do. Too often, I miss talking to strangers, not because of machines and screens, but because I simply forget to see them.
I remember the first time our family got a touchscreen. It was an early GPS model (the kind you had to buy map updates for), but I was too young to drive, so what stood out to me was the touchscreen. I’d seen Star Trek, so I knew what to do. I just never guessed that I would live to see the day when McDonalds had more touchscreens than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Screens for ordering, screens for keeping children entertained at the tables, screens for displaying menus, and don’t forget the personal communication devices everyone carries everywhere. Captain Kirk would be impressed.
This week twelve years ago, we should have been welcoming our firstborn child, but she wasn’t here. I’ve written about the day we found out about Hannah’s death in this post. This week, in honour of the daughter we haven’t met (yet), I’m sharing a poem I wrote shortly afterwards to process my thoughts about God and the death of a child.
These days, the world is literally at our fingertips, connected like never before. We can get instant updates on just about everything – live sports scores from New Zealand, political manoeuvring in Washington or Brussels, and what our holiday-making friends are eating or drinking – right now.
There’s a gateway to all this excitement sitting in my pocket, and it’s vibrating…
Ten years ago today, I got on an airplane in Washington DC with my pregnant wife and one year old son, and we all left the only country we’d ever lived in. The airport was busy with people heading the other direction: it was Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, 2009. A couple of meals and movies later, we landed in Ireland. We were met at the airport by coworkers, and on the way home we stopped at Pizza Hut. During the meal, my wife noticed that we had left the diaper bag in the trunk. No problem, our coworker was happy to get the nappy bag out of the boot. We looked at each other and knew: it might be Pizza Hut, but it was definitely not America!
There was a time last year when my lungs started going on strike. Every breath became a rattling effort, and time only seemed to make it worse. So, like any sane person who can’t breath, I went to the doctor. She told me I had pneumonia, but was quick to add that she was very accepting of my unique breathing style and would support me in my new lifestyle. Then she sent me home.